Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline and German biotech firm CureVac have struck a €150m (£130m) deal to develop next-generation COVID-19 vaccines that target several variants of the virus in one product.
The companies said in a joint statement that they were targeting a launch of the vaccine in 2022.
It comes as public health experts around the world raise concerns about whether mutations in the virus may make existing vaccines less effective.
UK-based GSK, which holds a stake in CureVac, will also help the company manufacture up to 100 million doses of its first generation vaccine – currently in clinical trials – this year.
It marks a fresh attempt by GSK to take a key role in the global fight against the pandemic after development delays hampered a COVID-19 collaboration with Sanofi.
In Wednesday’s statement, GSK and CureVac said the aim of the collaboration would be to offer “broader protection” against a variety of different variants of the virus and to enable a quick response to those that may emerge in the future.
“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first generation COVID-19 vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,” they said.
“These next generation COVID-19 vaccines may either be used to protect people who have not been vaccinated before, or to serve as boosters in the event that COVID-19 immunity gained from an initial vaccination reduces over time.”
They said it could mean the “potential for a multi-valent approach to address multiple emerging variants in one vaccine”.
GSK chief executive Dame Emma Walmsley said: “We believe that next generation vaccines will be crucial in the continued fight against COVID-19.
“This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together, we will combine our scientific expertise… to advance and accelerate the development of new COVID-19 vaccine candidates.”
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