Another one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies is throwing its weight behind the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Novartis (NYSE:NVS) will partner with Massachusetts General Hospital to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate.
An experienced partner
The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute, part of the nonprofit Mass General Brigham health system, has entered an agreement with AveXis, a gene-therapy developer that Novartis bought in 2018 for $8.7 billion, to mass-produce a vaccine candidate called AAVCOVID. It uses an adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector to deliver genetic blueprints that should spur the production of harmless protein fragments that resemble the spikes found on the surface of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
AveXis is probably a good fit to handle the production of AAVCOVID: The Novartis subsidiary already manufactures Zolgensma, one of just two AAV-based gene therapies currently approved by the FDA. Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche (OTC:RHHB.Y) markets the other, Luxturna.
While it's true that Novartis has the means to produce an FDA-approved medicine based on AAV vector technology, that doesn't necessarily mean the company's ready to produce billions of doses of a new AAV vector vaccine at the moment. Zolgensma is a $2.1 million treatment for a rare, inherited, muscle-wasting disorder that affects roughly 30,000 children in the U.S.
Though AAVCOVID is still in preclinical stage testing, Novartis is preparing to scale up production before trials with human subjects begin. AveXis will produce its first doses of AAVCOVID later this month.