GlaxoSmithKline has unveiled positive interim results from mid-stage trials of a Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with the Canadian biotech firm Medicago, a day after releasing strong data from its vaccine collaboration with the French drugmaker Sanofi.
The double dose of positive vaccine news gives GSK a boost at a time when its chief executive, Emma Walmsley, is under intense pressure from a new activist investor, the New York hedge fund Elliott Management, which took a sizeable stake in April.
The UK drugmaker and Quebec-based Medicago said the vaccine, a plant-based jab, triggered protective antibody levels 10 times higher than in patients recovering from Covid-19. The response was similar in all age groups who were given two doses three weeks apart, without serious side-effects.
Up to 30,000 volunteers are enrolling for phase 3 trials of the Medicago vaccine, which can be stored in the fridge, in Canada, the US, the UK and Brazil. It has received fast-track designation by the US health regulator and the companies hope it will be on the market in late summer or early autumn.
Many low- and middle-income countries are struggling to get enough Covid shots to vaccinate their populations. India’s crisis is worsening, with a record 4,329 deaths in the last 24 hours.
GSK is providing an adjuvant, designed to boost the body’s immune response, to the vaccine developed by Medicago, similar to its collaboration with Sanofi.
The vaccine project with Sanofi has suffered delays, but on Monday, GSK and Sanofi said interim results from a mid-stage trial showed a “strong neutralising antibody response” in all adult age groups, and raised no safety concerns, which means the jab will move into late-stage clinical trials within weeks and could be on the market at the end of the year.
Walmsley, who plans to split the GSK consumer healthcare arm off from the pharmaceuticals and vaccine business next year, is under pressure to improve the company’s performance. The share price has fallen 15% since she took the helm four years ago, as the firm battles to keep up with rivals and rebuild its portfolio of new medicines.
David Cumming, the chief investment officer at Aviva Investors, became the first big shareholder to speak out publicly this week, saying that GSK’s potential was “not being realised” and that “the jury is still out on her future”.
However, GSK’s biggest investor BlackRock, along with Dodge & Cox and Royal London Asset Management, have reportedly pledged their support for management. It is thought that many investors support the firm’s strategy and do not want management to become distracted from that.