New plant-based COVID vaccine enters final stage of testing

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In late March, Canadian biotech company, Medicago Inc., and pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), launched phase three clinical trial sites in the U.S. and Canada for their plant-based COVID-19 vaccine. Earlier this month, the vaccine arrived in Texas cities such as Houston and Austin, where recruiting for volunteers to complete this study began.

In the fall of 2020, Medicago unveiled that early-stage data of their plant-based vaccine produced antibodies that can neutralize the virus. With the help of GSK, both companies soon shelled out phase one clinical studies to test how safe this plant-based product is. According to Reuters, participants received two doses of the vaccine with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant, an ingredient used to help create a stronger immune response against immunization, administered 21 days apart. 

To break the process down, the Medicago vaccine incorporates particles grown in plants that imitate the shape of COVID-19 fragments. Though they are similar in structure, these particles contain an empty shell that cannot cause an infection and do not contain any genetic material. To strengthen its appearance as a vaccine, the product is then paired up with GSK’s adjuvant. Like the Johnson & Johnson shot, the plant-based vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperatures, which makes transportation easier and quicker.  

After successful phase two results, Medicago reported that they received approval from Canadian and U.S. authorities to begin phase three. In February, according to Free Think, the vaccine was also granted Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Fast Track designation, which allows for sped-up development and medicine reviews aimed at medical emergencies. 

“We are pleased to take the significant step of initiating the phase three clinical trial at sites around the world,” Medicago president and CEO Takashi Nagao said in a press release. “This brings us one step closer to delivering an important new COVID-19 vaccine and contributing to the global fight against the pandemic along with our partner GSK.”

With this vaccine producing positive feedback, it was not long until more plant-based immunizations joined the list. According to Houston-based news station, KPRC 2, Kentucky BioProcessing Inc. developed their plant-based vaccine and are currently enrolling in phase one trials. Newark founded plant-based manufacturer iBio and British American Tobacco are also working on participants.

Medicago is hoping to complete the phase three trial in time to submit results to regulators for review. 

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