Canada pledges $11m to cancer research with donation of cancer vaccine

Minister Melinda Tankard-Reveille says offer of six months’ supply of vaccine is a ‘very big moment’ Canada will make a donation of 10 million doses of a vaccine made by Moderna Therapeutics in a…

Canada pledges $11m to cancer research with donation of cancer vaccine

Minister Melinda Tankard-Reveille says offer of six months’ supply of vaccine is a ‘very big moment’

Canada will make a donation of 10 million doses of a vaccine made by Moderna Therapeutics in a show of support for a small US company developing the blockbuster drug Ibrance.

On Friday, Minister Melinda Tankard-Reveille, a former public health nurse, announced that Ottawa would make the donation of the MT16 antibiotic, plus a supply of commercial Moderna marketing rights, for a six-month supply to CovaGene.

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“This is a very big moment for our country to be able to partner with the Canadian government and make a donation like this,” Tankard-Reveille said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

“The first generation of immunotherapies and cancer immunotherapies has worked, and that’s amazing,” Tankard-Reveille said. “But the second generation is important because we’re really recognizing the opportunity to target these programs through the cellular aspect.”

Moderna’s innovative CT-17 vaccine, manufactured by Research Triangle Park, North Carolina-based CovaGene, is designed to take on cancer stem cells (CSCs), “the cells that allow cancer to regrow” and contain all that makes a cancer turn aggressive, Tankard-Reveille said.

Moderna is in talks with CovaGene for 10m doses of its vaccine, which Tankard-Reveille said is “a majority portion of” the 11m doses the company has promised to donate to cancer research around the world over the next 10 years.

The donation will help CovaGene in its work on a cervical cancer vaccine.

Moderna is estimated to have raised more than $1bn in initial investments in the last three years, from venture capitalists such as Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and investment funds led by new technology “super angels” such as Y Combinator and Maverick Capital.

The CovaGene agreement marks Canada’s first direct purchase of the vaccination, which is still in development.

The company, which was also founded in North Carolina, secured the supply of the vaccine in a competitive bidding process.

While at first blush a donation may appear excessive, the biotech product Moderna is developing holds potential to treat a lot of diseases and could generate significant sales if approved, reported Milpitas-based Mercury News. Moderna’s cancer immunotherapy drugs use “self-assembling engineering” to harness the power of patient cells to seek out and attack cancerous cells. In the case of Ibrance, a blockbuster cancer drug, the tumors’ ability to travel through blood vessels, allowing them to escape chemo drugs, are inhibited.

Covance, who will also work with CovaGene on cancer vaccines, said the deal was proof of the values companies can achieve.

“Collaborations of this kind are crucial to our mission to invest in products that can transform lives, and bring opportunities to patients,” said Mitcham, chief commercial officer of Covance.

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While MT16’s ongoing safety research will be the most critical factor for CovaGene, the donation will help the company achieve its goal of securing enough funding to build a full-scale factory.

In the meantime, CovaGene said it would seek support from established medical drug manufacturers, funding may also come from pharmaceutical partners.

While Tankard-Reveille did not discuss sales of the vaccine, the ability of such drugs to cut the length of time cancer patients live could be a game-changer.

“These interventions are designed to be given for quite a long time,” Tankard-Reveille said. “So we do anticipate that … could allow some substantial change with some patients in that respect.”

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