A French drugmaker said Monday its COVID-19 shots staved off disease and produced more robust immunity than a rival vaccine, meaning that shots that rely on conventional technology could enter the global pipeline.
Valneva, a specialty vaccine maker, said a trial involving 4,000 participants in the U.K. prevented infections and severe disease as well as the vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which was used as a comparison vaccine. Both vaccines were given in two doses, 28 days apart.
However, Valneva said its vaccine produced more robust antibodies than the AstraZeneca version and participants aged 30 and older reported “significantly fewer” side effects than the rival.
Adam Finn, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol who worked on the vaccine, said scientists can infer from the antibody data that it is “at least as good if not better than the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
The shot also produced T-cells that are important in producing long-term immunity.
Valneva said it plans to apply for approval in Europe before the end of the year.
The company’s topline results offered a reminder of the menu of vaccines that have been approved or remain in development around the world, beyond the trio of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines being used in the U.S.
“I think the holy trinity of vaccines is going to be challenged by other vaccines coming down the pike. We’re going to see other vaccines,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. “Hopefully we’ll get more competition and maybe even cheaper vaccines coming through, too.”
Mr. Caplan said the world was so desperate to approve any shots that were ready and effective last year that it “sort of made us forget there were a lot more vaccines.”
Novavax, a Maryland company, recently applied for emergency use authorization from the World Health Organization for its protein-based vaccine while it gathers sufficient manufacturing data for U.S. regulators.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are working with Indian company Bharat Tech on a nasal vaccine that targets mucous in the nose, where infection typically starts. It is in clinical trials.
Valneva‘s vaccine uses what’s known as an inactivated adjuvanted virus vector, a conventional vaccine technology that might be useful in developing countries that are able to adopt the technology in their manufacturing as opposed to pioneering technologies, such as messenger RNA, used in existing versions of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The technology used in the Valneva vaccine is also used in leading Chinese vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm.
“These results confirm the advantages often associated with inactivated whole virus vaccines. We are committed to bringing our differentiated vaccine candidate to licensure as quickly as possible and continue to believe that we will be able to make an important contribution to the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Valneva CEO Thomas Lingelbach. “We are keen to propose an alternative vaccine solution for people who have not yet been vaccinated.”
Mr. Lingelbach said he thinks the option might appeal to those who have been reluctant to get vaccinated with “novel technologies thus far.”
Mr. Caplan said he sees a bit of “marketing” in the company’s claims, arguing the old-school vaccines take longer to make and while the drugmaker “can claim an advantage when people are afraid to take the new ones, I think the answer is to make people less afraid of the new ones.”
Valneva shares soared by 30% as the company announced its results, which may cause a stir in the U.K.
The British government recently canceled an order for 100 million doses of the Valneva vaccine for 2021-2022 as it relies on shots from Pfizer, Moderna and the homegrown AstraZeneca version.
AstraZeneca declined to comment on Valneva‘s press release, which discussed the relative merits of the two companies’ vaccines.