GSK Stevenage
GSK bought close to 10% of CureVac in July © REUTERS

The UK’s GlaxoSmithKline and Germany’s CureVac will work together on a new generation of Covid-19 vaccines to tackle emerging variants of the virus that have shown some resistance to existing ones.

The two companies have agreed a €150m deal to develop jointly a product using mRNA technology that would work on multiple variants of the Sars-Cov-2 virus and could be ready for use in 2022, subject to approval.

GSK will also help manufacture up to 100m doses of CureVac’s mRNA vaccine candidate at its plant in Belgium. The CureVac vaccine, the only mRNA shot that is stable at conventional fridge temperatures, is in the final phases of testing. CureVac also has a manufacturing agreement with Germany’s Bayer.

Emma Walmsley, chief executive of GSK, said next generation vaccines would be “crucial” in the fight against Covid-19.

“This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together, we will combine our scientific expertise in mRNA and vaccine development to advance . . . the development of new Covid-19 vaccine candidates,” she said.

The new vaccine may be used for previously unvaccinated people or as a booster shot.

The companies will also assess development of mRNA vaccines to protect against other respiratory viruses. GSK will have the marketing authorisation for the new vaccine worldwide except for in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

GSK bought close to 10 per cent of CureVac in July, although the deal did not include CureVac’s current Covid-19 vaccine. The German government also invested €300m in the company, following reports that the Trump administration had sought to persuade it to go to the US.

CureVac has said it can manufacture 300m doses of its vaccine this year, and at least 600m next year. It has signed a deal to deliver 400m doses to the EU, and has said it will no longer pursue authorisation of the shot in the US, citing market saturation.

Adam Barker, an analyst at Shore Capital, said GSK was focused on “smart allocation of resources”.

“I suspect GSK are also carefully watching their own vaccine manufacturing so they don’t cause any supply issues there by manufacturing large amounts of Covid vaccines,” he said.

The multivalent mRNA vaccines — that aim to tackle multiple variants — being developed by GSK and CureVac “are very promising, but also very difficult”, he added. “We’ve never been able to get them for flu. So that’s a more high-risk investment for them.”

Separately on Wednesday, GSK reported a fourth-quarter 1 per cent fall in sales at constant exchange rates. Adjusted earnings per share fell 5 per cent to 23.3p. 

Ms Walmsley said the company was in talks with other drugmakers to help manufacture their vaccines but did not provide more detail. 

Shares fell as much as 4.7 per cent after the group said it expected the ongoing pandemic and the prioritisation of Covid-19 to impact its own vaccines business for other diseases, at least in the first half of the year. 

“Despite this short-term impact we remain very confident in demand for these products, and expect strong recovery and contribution to growth from [shingles vaccine] Shingrix in the second half of the year,” said GSK.

The drugmaker said it expects its vaccine revenue growth for 2021 to be flat or in the low-single digits. It also said it was on track for its planned separation into a biopharma and consumer healthcare company in 2022.

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