While many companies around the world are working hard and fast to develop a coronavirus vaccine, New York-based biotechnology company iBio (NYSE:IBIO) is moving forward with its second vaccine program. The company’s IBIO-201 has advanced to a preclinical immunization study amid hopes for a possible rapid, large scale manufacturing of the potential vaccine.
The new product candidate is a subunit vaccine that combines antigens derived from the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein with iBio’s patented lichenase booster molecule (LicKM) technology which is designed to enhance the immune system response.
The purpose of using a subunit antigen for the secondary candidate is to improve the chances of creating a lasting, single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Employing the LicKM booster technology to a new vaccine will also increase the biotech’s manufacturing capacity. iBio has a 130,000 square foot manufacturing facility located in Bryan, Texas.
The technology addresses a challenge faced by soluble antigens in requiring the use of an adjuvant to strengthen their immunogenicity. Since iBio’s LicKM technology may achieve the same immune response with lower vaccine antigen requirements, the number of vaccine doses needed for prolonged immunity may be lessened.
Two potential vaccines are better than one
The platform initiation comes on the heels of iBio’s original virus-like particle (VLP) program, IBIO-200, which was initiated on March 18th. Both product candidates are being tested as part of a Master Joint Development Agreement between iBio and Texas A&M University as well as an April 2020 Memorandum of Understanding between iBio and the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI).
Co-Chairman and CEO Tom Isett commented, “The launch of our second COVID-19 vaccine program is emblematic of the speed, flexibility and scalability we can achieve by combining our plant-based Fast Pharming System with other technologies in our intellectual property portfolio, such as LicKM.”
iBio’s Fast Pharming System is a combination of vertical farming, automated hydroponics, and glycan engineering technologies that makes monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, and other plant-based proteins. It was founded in 2010 as part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) “Blue Angel” program aimed at establishing medical countermeasures to a disease pandemic.
A unique aspect of the plant-based system is that it is not a resource-intensive process that would potentially inhibit scaling as in some traditional manufacturing processes. If the vaccine candidates were found to be clinically effective and clear regulatory approvals, the company would be able to quickly produce hundreds of millions of doses.
Although iBio is one of many companies that have thrown their hat in the COVID-19 vaccine ring, the development of a second potential immunity certainly improves its likelihood for success.
In less than a few months, the company has discovered and advanced a pair of COVID-19 vaccine platforms and done so in-house without partnering with other companies. iBio has largely placed the development of IBIO-100, a potential treatment for fibrotic diseases, on hold, but this represents another promising growth opportunity.
Shares of iBio have surged more than 500% since the start of the year on hopes that the company is successful in developing a COVID-19 vaccine.