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Covid-19: Portuguese Vaccine Awaiting State Support

Portuguese biotech company Immunethep is ready to proceed with the clinical trials of its vaccine against Covid-19, but the wait for funding from the state has made it impossible for the company to proceed further.

“Right now, all our non-clinical trials are complete. We have already proven the effectiveness of the vaccine on the animals, we have already proven the absence of toxicity. The next step would be to move to clinical trials. What happened with almost all vaccines is that there was strong government support. Despite the contacts that have been made, the interest and some meetings, we are still waiting,” said the Executive Director of Immunethep, Bruno Santos.

The company, which is based in Cantanhede, Coimbra, needs approximately 20 million euros to complete its clinical trial phase, and although funding promises have been made by the mainland government, as yet, nothing has been ratified.  As the company say, if they have the funding they could seek clinical trial authorisation from Infarmed, and start this month.  However, says Bruno Santos, “If we don’t have the funding, we will fall ever further behind!”

It would be possible to kickstart the process, if countries were able to make advance purchases of the vaccine, similar to what was done in the United States of America and Germany. A further possibility, raised by the mainland Government, is to apply for EU funding, however, a decision will only be made at the end of the year.

Technically, said Bruno Santos, if we can raise 80% of the financing, we have a pool of investors who would be able to cover the missing 20%.  But without the initial investment, no one is prepared to invest in something that may not happen. He further went on to say that time is running out, and that it is frustrating to be so close, but to have so little support, especially as the Immunethep vaccine characteristics make it interesting for developing countries.  This is due to its easy administration format, which negates the need for the vaccine to be given by a health professional.  In addition, it does not need cold storage, while the vaccine itself works as a ‘whole’ and therefore will provide greater protection against new and existing variants, especially advantageous as both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are not as effective against new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Samantha Gannon

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