Canada has become the first country in the world to approve Medicago’s plant-based COVID-19 vaccine for use in adults.
In a recent press release, Health Canada announced the authorization of Medicago’s coronavirus vaccine for use in adults aged 18 to 64 years. The plant-based COVID-19 vaccine is currently only approved for use in Canada. Developed by a Quebec-based company, the vaccine is administered as a two-dose regimen.
Unlike other COVID-19 vaccines, Medicago’s Covifenz is based on plant-based technology. The pharmaceutical company uses the plant Nicotiana benthamiana to produce non-infectious virus-like particles. These particles can mimic the spike protein; thus, triggering an immune response once inside the body. However, prior to injection, these viral proteins are first removed from the leaves, purified, and combined with and adjuvant provided by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). GSK has also previously provided its adjuvant technology to develop a joint COVID-19 vaccine with Sanofi.
Health Canada’s decision is based on results from a recent vaccine trial comprising of 24,000 adults. According to the trial, the vaccine demonstrated an overall efficacy of 71%. The effectiveness was consistent among all circulating coronavirus variants at the time. However, since the Omicron variant had not emerged at the time of the study, it is unclear how effective the plant-based vaccine is against the strain. Furthermore, trial investigators did not report any adverse effects among the study participants. The most common side effects included fever and fatigue.
Other than employing a plant-based technology, the vaccine also tackles the challenge of vaccine storage and distribution. Unlike mRNA vaccines, Covifenz only requires temperatures of 2-8 degrees Celsius for storage. Thus, it can likely increase the worldwide vaccine supply.