Australian biotech giant CSL (ASX: CSL) has entered into a "significant" agreement that formalises the work it has been doing with COVID-19 vaccine developers since January.
A new partnering agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Queensland (UQ) aims to accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Funding will come from CEPI and CSL to develop and manufacture a vaccine candidate pioneered by UQ researchers, harnessing the university's proprietary "molecular clamp" technology that allows for a more effective immune response by locking unstable surface proteins.
Phase 1 clinical trials are expected in July with late stage clinical trials expected to follow.
If these trials are successful, the groups indicate a vaccine could be available for distribution by 2021 and large-scale production will take place at CSL's biotech manufacturing facilities in Melbourne.
CSL believes the production technology can be scaled up to produce 100 million doses towards the end of 2021, while it would also sub-contract other global manufacturers to improve availability and geographical distribution.
"We are pleased to be able to provide our scientific expertise and platform technologies to make a strong contribution to this critical joint effort with CEPI, the University of Queensland and others," says CSL chief scientific officer, Professor Andrew Cuthbertson (pictured).
"The devastating toll COVID-19 has inflicted on the world is being countered by an extraordinary effort from scientists who have crossed borders and boundaries to collaborate, pool together their resources and make progress at a rate not seen before.
"CSL will contribute to UQ's promising vaccine with our proprietary adjuvant, MF59, made by Seqirus, along with expertise in process science and scale-up from our Australian facilities, managing advanced clinical trials and the large-scale manufacture of the recombinant vaccine."
CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett says investing in large-scale manufacturing capacity now will reduce the time needed to deliver millions of doses of the UQ vaccine to those who need them the most, should the candidate prove safe and effective.
CEPI chair Jane Halton emphasises the importance of collaboration, with the partnership set to benefit enormously from CSL's experience and capabilities in vaccine development and large-scale manufacturing.
"If this vaccine is successful, the partnership model we have established will enable CEPI to provide a significant number of doses to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility for those who need them most, while allowing CSL to fulfil its own long-standing biosecurity commitment."
UQ Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Høj says the university is "absolutely delighted" at the speed with which this critical juncture has been reached, off the back of positive results from UQ's early pre-clinical studies.
"This accelerated timeframe, hitting the key milestones in the development of the UQ vaccine, would not have been possible without CEPI, our partners and additional funding assistance from the Queensland State Government ($10m), the Federal Government ($ 5m) and philanthropic partners," he said.
"Having CSL, an Australian-based global biotech leader, take our vaccine forward is a fantastic result for the dedicated research team who have worked tirelessly since January on this project, which will benefit Australians and the world."
Investors appear to have expected more from CSL - perhaps a shorter timeframe for vaccine development - as its share price is down 3.58 per cent this afternoon at $283.70.
Updated at 12:59pm AEST on 5 June 2020.
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