Is Quebec’s Medicago preparing us for a future pandemic response?
One of the best thrillers in recent memory is Contagion, the Steven Soderbergh directed film about a fast spreading pandemic inspired by the SARS epidemic of 2003 and, especially, the flu pandemic six years later.
Today, a small Quebec-based biotech is doing its part to ensure that the lines between fiction and fact do not blur.
Medicago (TSX:MDG) this morning announced it had completed a key milestone under its agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. At its facility in North Carolina, the company produced ten-million doses of H1N1 virus-like-particle influenza vaccine candidate in one month, between March 25th and April 24th.
Medicago CEO Andy Sheldon said: “The completion of the rapid-fire test marks a substantial achievement in demonstrating our technology and the potential for Medicago to be the first responder in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak,” adding: “We look forward to continuing to move our company closer to commercial capability in the near future.”
Medicago came to public attention in 2009 when the swine flu panic ripped through North America, and trailed off after the most dire of predictions failed to materialize. The company, which develops plant based vaccines to combat new strains of influenza, was awarded a $21-million grant from the Department of Defense a year later.
Medicago is all about speed. The company uses tobacco leaves to produce pandemic and seasonal influenza VLP vaccines. One of the real benefits to this solution, compared to traditional egg-based or cell based production is speed; a vaccine can be produced for testing a month or less after the identification of a new strain.
In 2010, a group of scientific experts led by health policy guru Dr. Harvey Fineberg cleared the World Health Organization of any misconduct in the way they handled the swine flu pandemic of 2009. The panel however, concluded that the WHO was rendered ineffective by the lack of available medicine. “Vaccines were produced as fast as technology would have permitted. said Fineberg “But they came only months after the initial outbreak.”
At press time, shares of Medicago were up 3.7% to $.56 cents.