(BFM Bourse) – The British government’s termination of its contract to buy Valneva’s Covid vaccine has prompted the group to revise its production plan, at the expense of new hires at its Livingston plant in Scotland. Instead, the group turned to a German manufacturer, IDT Biologika. In the UK, the radical change is increasingly criticized, especially as the VLA2001 profile suggests good efficacy against variants such as Omicron.
The French vaccine specialist Valneva has left behind the disappointment caused in September by the unexpected termination of the contract previously concluded with the British government for VLA2001, its candidate vaccine against Covid (now under review with the health authorities after the positive result of phase 3 , last stage of clinical trials before possible commercialization). In particular, in the stock market plan: they fell to 11 euros on the day of the disconcerting British announcement, the stock registered an all-time high on Monday near 30 euros, approaching the bar of 3 billion euros of capitalization, something unprecedented for a French biotechnology.
Following talks with the UK government over the summer, and then again after the UK contract was terminated in September, Valneva re-examined its production strategy to combine external and internal production to tailor its production plan in consequence. Valneva’s plants in Livingston, Scotland and Solna, Sweden, will continue to play a key role in the group’s production strategy.
First doses delivered in April?
After the signing last week of an advance purchase agreement with the European Commission for the supply of up to 60 million doses of VLA2001 over two years, the firm announced in particular on Monday evening an agreement with IDT Biologika for the production of the candidate vaccine. Specifically, this company based in Dessau-Roßlau, in Saxony-Anhalt, will produce the active principle. Although the group’s production in Livingston is not abandoned, the use of a partner strongly suggests that the group will not invest in increasing the capacity of its Scottish site.
“IDT is a long-standing partner in the network of manufacturers working for Valneva. Therefore, we are very pleased to extend this partnership to the supply of VLA2001. This collaboration will contribute to the rapid deployment of our inactivated vaccine, as we continue to believe that our Differentiated vaccine candidate can make an important contribution to the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, “said Thomas Lingelbach, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Valneva.
Strong criticism in the UK
The acceleration of preparations in Europe to be ready to deliver the first doses in April 2022, subject to obtaining the green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), comes amid increasingly vigorous criticism across the Channel. .
“Although ministers and scientists warn that the new mutation of [virus du] Covid Omicron could be more infectious than previous variants, the French vaccine canceled by the UK government just two months ago could contain the solution to defeat the new super strain [virale]”, Proclaimed last Saturday the Daily Mail, a newspaper of great popularity (and generally little versed in Francophilia).
“Experts told the Mail on Sunday [l’édition dominicale du quotidien] that nevertheless there is an injection that could already be effective against this version of the virus: the one developed by the French firm Valneva and ordered by the UK government – later canceled ”, continues the newspaper, explaining how the technology of VLA2001, unique in Europe can give you an advantage. Valneva’s candidate contains inactivated whole virus, which helps the immune system to recognize the threat and fight the real virus if it is infected.
Other vaccines, both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, recognize genetic fragments of the virus that result from a particular region of the virus, protein S (corresponding to the spike that gives the virus the name “corona” and allows it to cling to it). cells to infect). However, this region is also the most conducive to mutations: the 32 mutations observed in the Omicron variant are all located at the level of protein S (peak in English), which increases the risk that antibodies developed with a first vaccine do not. do not recognize this new virus. “As the Valneva vaccine presents more sections of the virus to educate the immune system, experts believe that it may be more resistant to the variants than others,” the journal concluded.
Rigorous UK government management
In fact, if the Valneva vaccine was designed (such as those currently on the market) from the original “Wuhan” strain of the coronavirus, when the trials were carried out they were already the Alpha (“British”) variants. . And then Delta (“Indio”) circulating. However, the effectiveness was there, none of the patients who had received the vaccine had to be hospitalized.
In this context, misunderstanding and even anger are increasing in Britain two months after the resignation, pitifully justified by the Minister of Health, Sajid Javid, especially since the country had bet very early, at the end of 2020, on the Valneva product.
The former head of the Vaccine Task Force created by the Department of Health to organize the vaccination campaign, Kate Bingham, cut the government’s rough handling to pieces during a conference at Oxford University last week.
In her speech “From War to Peace: Lessons from the Vaccine Working Group”, Dame Bingham first traced the evolution of the British response from her appointment in May 2020 to the end of her term at the end of the same year. , once the country became the first in the West to vaccinate its population (as of December 8), not without underlining the obstacles of the government and Whitehall (the British high administration) that had to be overcome to ensure the supply of vaccines.
A logistically simpler vaccine
The former head of the vaccine working group recommended incorporating scientific expertise much more closely into the government’s decision-making process, advocating a review aimed at refocusing the administration on the goal to be achieved rather than adherence to a process. , and suggested improving government-business relations. He highlighted missed opportunities to prepare for future needs.
Addressing the case of the Valneva vaccine specifically, Kate Bingham said that the recent cancellation of the contract with this pioneering company before the positive results of Phase 3 on the grounds that the UK had enough vaccines, even for booster injections , violated the mandate given by Prime. Minister of the Vaccine Working Group to obtain and distribute vaccines rapidly in the UK and abroad to countries with limited financial resources. This cancellation did not take into account the needs of Covax, the international vaccine purchasing agency, and the fact that most countries in the world do not have access to vaccines, while Valneva’s formulation is particularly suitable. countries, as it does not require a complex cold chain infrastructure. A move that also ruled out “the need to build resilience in the UK’s pandemic preparedness capacity with a new state-of-the-art and flexible manufacturing facility in Livingston, Scotland capable of manufacturing vaccines in any format as needed, including flu shots. ” 100 new jobs planned for Scotland are now being transferred to East Germany, “he said.
Guillaume Bayre – © 2021 BFM Bourse
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