June 10, 2020 / 8:22 AM / a month ago

Japan's AnGes speeds towards 2021 rollout in coronavirus 'vaccine war'

OSAKA (Reuters) - Japanese biotech AnGes Inc (4563.T) expects its coronavirus vaccine to be ready as early as the first half of 2021, if it can overcome supply chain and production hurdles, the company’s founder said.

Ryuichi Morishita, a professor of clinical gene therapy at Osaka University, poses for a photograph during an interview with Reuters at his laboratory in Osaka, western Japan June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Rocky Swift

The Osaka-based firm had a headstart in the potential COVID-19 vaccine development by repurposing its hypertension vaccine that had already passed through high safety and regulatory standards and other hurdles.

Ryuichi Morishita told Reuters that Japan’s health ministry and Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency “already had strong confidence in our product” because of that experience.

The comments come as Japan’s government has earmarked $1.3 billion in its latest budget for vaccine production as it seeks to put the coronavirus vaccine into use and hopes to host a delayed Tokyo Olympics next year.

Drugmakers around the world are scrambling to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly infectious new coronavirus which has so far killed more than 400,000 people worldwide.

There are 10 vaccines in clinical trials and dozens more in pre-clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization, but mass production and allocation remain significant challenges.

Morishita also warned that shortages in everything from drug compounds to glass vials, as hundreds of institutes and companies carry out research simultaneously, have emerged in what he calls a “vaccine war” and could complicate production.

AnGes’s candidate is one of Japan’s best hopes at a coronavirus vaccine, as development is further along than some being produced by other firms such as Shionogi & Co (4507.T) and Daiichi Sankyo Co (4568.T).

The AnGes candidate is a plasmid DNA vaccine that disables the connection between the protein spikes of the coronavirus and receptors in human cells.

Early results from tests in mice show increased antibody production, and tests in 30 human volunteers are due to begin in July, with first results expected in September.

By contrast, other candidates such as U.S. firm Moderna Inc’s (MRNA.O) vaccine are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) that instructs human cells to make specific coronavirus proteins that produce an immune response. Other varieties are based on inactivated forms of the virus.

Morishita, who launched AnGes 20 years ago out of Osaka University, has seen the company’s market valuation surge more than five fold to $2.4 billion since it announced its coronavirus campaign in March.

“The future of COVID-19 is very mysterious,” said Morishita, adding that any vaccine would likely need constant tweaking as the virus mutates and returns.

Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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