Edmonton biotechnology company hopeful its COVID-19 vaccine will continue along approval process

A pharmacist holds vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Yuki Iwamura/Reuters

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An Edmonton biotechnology company is waiting to start the next phase of its COVID-19 vaccine approval after the federal government announced tens of millions of dollars to support vaccine production.

Entos Pharmaceuticals CEO Dr. John Lewis said his company is currently working on two DNA vaccines. Entos has sent one of those vaccines to a lab in Ottawa where it will, in turn, be sent to Halifax, to start Phase 1 of the approval process for public use.

“We decided to select DNA because DNA is much more stable. Our DNA formulations are stable in the refrigerator for a year or at room temperature for a month,” said Lewis.

Lewis said his company had requested $49 million for its vaccine development from the federal government last March. In August, it received $5 million from the National Research Council of Canada Industiral Research Assistance Program to help get its vaccine to Phase 1. It also received $4.2 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research rapid research funding competition.


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“I don’t think it’s tough to get things moving quicker. I think it requires decisive investment. We saw other countries making decisive investments early on multiple candidates,” said Lewis. “We did not see that in Canada. We saw a huge lag in between the decision making for funding and then relatively meagre funding for most of the candidates.”

Vaccine production has become a big topic as the world races to produce two approved vaccines, one from Moderna and one from Pfizer. Canada currently does not have the capacity to produce either one within the country, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized by critics for not being more pro-active in securing more vaccines from international partners.

Trudeau announced at the beginning of February his government would be investing tens of millions of dollars to support vaccine and therapeutic medicine in Vancouver and Montreal.

As of Monday morning, 1,447,600 doses of vaccine had been administered in Canada.

John Power, a spokesperson for Minister of Science, innovation and Technology François-Philippe Champagne, said the government’s investment decisions are being informed by expert advice from its vaccine and therapeutics task forces and biomanufacturing subcommittee. He said the government has invested over half a billion dollars to ensure Canada can produce safe vaccines and therapies.

“Our government is working to strengthen Canada’s biomanufacturing sector all while aggressively pursuing the purchase and development of vaccines, treatments and related supplies to protect Canadians from COVID-19,” said Power in an email. “We continue to follow Entos’ progress closely and are committed to working with the company to provide support on further milestones.”


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Still a need for more vaccines

Lewis said he believes there is still a need for his vaccine after Pfizer and Moderna received approvals. He noted the emergence of more contagious variants and the need to vaccinate billions of people worldwide as key reasons to move forward with the production of Entos’ vaccine.

“It’s going to be well into 2022 before we vaccinate our population, and so I still think with a decisive investment in manufacturing and clinical development of multiple vaccines, not just ours, that we can have some made-in-Canada solutions,” said Lewis.

There are other COVID-19 vaccines being studied and developed in the Edmonton area. The Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute at the University of Alberta has developed a vaccine targeting the receptor-binding domain of the S spike protein.

“We are getting high titers (laboratory test results) of neutralizing antibodies against the original strain from Wuhan as well as decent titers against the UK variant,” said Dr. Michael Houghton, the institute’s director, in an email. “We are testing to see its efficacy against the South African strain.”

Houghton has previously said he believes there will be a need for multiple types of COVID-19 vaccines.



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