COVID-19: the efforts made by the pharmaceutical industry in Belgium

Maatschappelijke impact

Four ongoing clinical trials with vaccines

Update 27/11/20: there are 31 clinical trials in Belgium concerning the effectiveness and safety of candidate vaccines or medication linked to COVID-19. ( Source: Fagg)

Four clinical trials on vaccine candidates against COVID-19 are taking place in Belgium at this day. These are being developed by the laboratories of CureVac, Johnson & Johnson, Institut Pasteur and MSD.

  • The German biotech CureVac started its phase 1 clinical trial in June on 168 volunteers, aged 18 to 60, in Belgium and Germany. In order to do so in Belgium, CureVac collaborated with the UZGent. Its research is, for most of it, financed by the CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), whose goal is to financially support research of vaccines for great epidemics or pandemics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Janssen Pharmaceutica, the Belgian branch of the American Johnson & Johnson, launched, in September, a phase 3 test on 60.000 people all over the world. This test followed a previous successful stage with Belgian volunteers that had been tested at the UZGent.
  • In a partnership with the CEPI and the biotech Thémis (bought off by MSD), Institut Pasteur develops an experimental vaccine against COVID-19, based on the vaccine against measles. In phase 1, the clinical study has been conducted among 90 volunteers in Belgium and in France.

But most of the ongoing clinical trials are related to treatments. There are currently (23/10/2020) 27 ongoing clinical trials with treatments in Belgium. Amongst which the following examples:

  • The Belgian site of the pharmaceutical group Takeda, in Lessines, has been selected to provide treatments based on plasma. This frames in a new phase 3 clinical trial to prove the efficiency and security of this type of therapy.
  • The British giant GSK, whose world centre for vaccines is in Wavre and Rixensart, is testing a monoclonal antibody, initially developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Researchers from VIB (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie), UCB Ventures (the venture capital branch of the biopharma group UCB), the Belgian fund for lifescience Fund+ and the SFPI (Société fédérale de Participations et Investissement) have united in giving means to the spin-off ExeVir Bio, in order to accelerate the development of their antiviral therapy based on lama’s antibodies. The new spin-off leverages the technological platform of nanobodies that she has developed to generate viral therapies offering a broad protection against the coronavirus.

Collaboration with the university hospital research centres

The universities and their research centres are multiplying partnerships in order to find remedies to the virus.

  • UZGent has launched several clinical trials with Belgian industrial partners, amongst which UCB. This concerns a trial which uses a molecule against serious myasthenia that is in phase 3 of its development.
  • Rega Instituut, which depends on KULeuven, developed a candidate-vaccine based on the vaccine for yellow fever. Rega Institute also collaborates with Pfizer, who is developing a vaccine with the German BioNTech.
  • Several Belgian medical centres, amongst which KULeuven and ULiège, have launched clinical trials as well in order to officially test the plasma method with more patients.

Vaccines will be produced in Belgium

Regarding production, Belgian pharmaceutical companies are also among the leaders. Three vaccine-developing groups have decided to realize a part of their production in Belgium.

  • Pfizer. The Puurs site has been selected to be part of the 4 worldwide sites of the American group to produce the vaccine against COVID-19, which is being developed with German laboratory BioNTech. On top of that, the Antwerp-based factory will play a major role in the logistics chain. As to be ready whenever the vaccine will be ready to be administrated, the factory has already hired 150 people.
  • GSK. Its Wavre site will contribute to the production of a billion doses of adjuvants, destined to the COVID-19 vaccine, and which are being developed with Sanofi.
  • AstraZeneca entrusted the production of the active substance of its vaccine, which is being developed with Oxford University, to the French company Novasep. The production will be realised on its Belgian site in Seneffe, which has foreseen to hire about a hundred people for this project.
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