Since the monster detrimental COVID-19 has emerged, pharmaceutical companies have yet to come up with a vaccine that could not just be available to cure the disease but also be available on a mass scale and be affordable.
One such company is a Chimeron Bio, a startup founded by an Indian-American couple based in Philadelphia who claims they have the solution as well.
“We believe we can make it (COVID-19 vaccine) available to not only select markets and population, but worldwide,” said Dr. Jolly Mazumdar, chief executive officer and co-founder of Chimeron Bio, an early-stage RNA company leveraging its proprietary ChaESARTM (self-amplifying RNA delivery platform technology) to advance a pipeline of first-in-class RNA drugs and vaccines.
When asked why they got into the COVID-19 vaccine race when there are so many others working to find a solution, Mazumdar agrees that there are a lot of companies and scientists working in this space but points out that the leading vaccine approaches may not be accessible to mass population., Chimeron’s vaccine technology presents scientific and manufacturing advantages, which combined could translate to an effective and globally affordable vaccine. So the company decided in early March to develop a novel vaccine for SARS-Cov-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
“We were already using our self-amplifying RNA platform technology for the development of drugs in other areas and so once the reports about China and the pandemic potential of this virus grew stronger, we started paying attention to the vaccine landscape,” said Mazumdar.
Chimeron – a startup with a focus on high-unmet needs in disease areas including oncology, rare genetic disorders of the liver and kidneys, and breast cancer – did not get into the urgent race for a vaccine earlier.
“While we were aware of our applicability in vaccines, we are a small biotech company, so obviously, we had to focus … but when a collaborator from a lab we worked with urged the need since our technology is very well suited for the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 and the crisis rapidly worsened, we just felt compelled to do something in this space,” said Mazumdar.
Dr. Thimmaiah “Tim” Chendrimada, Chimeron’s chief scientific officer and co-founder, said, “The self-amplifying property of our platform is geared to achieve maximal efficacy with lower doses, and therefore, if successful, one batch of our vaccine will be available to many more people worldwide.”
Mazumdar and her husband Chendrimada, co-founders of the company, said a challenge that most companies may face is the “cost” of the vaccine.
Chendrimada brings in 12 years of drug discovery and development experience across therapy areas including cardiovascular and oncology obtained at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pharmaceuticals. He has led multiple pre-clinical programs and has experience with therapeutic entities including small molecules and RNA oligos.
He says current RNA vaccines are actually quite expensive to make, and so there is a notion that even when a mRNA vaccine comes to market, not everybody can be vaccinated. Therefore, there is a tremendous push for manufacturing processes that can generate billions of doses in an affordable manner. Chimeron’s RNA technology has a distinct manufacturing advantage over other current approaches, -the ability to bypass an additional test-tube synthesis step for the RNA, also know as in-vitro RNA transcription, over current leading approaches. Therefore, the cost advantages are already starting to come to the surface.
“So now combining low-cost manufacturing with the fact that a particular person needs a much lesser amount of vaccine dose, to have the effectand you are really starting to generate value,” he said, adding that the company’s message in a video about COVID-19 they distributed, says “Our goal is to make a vaccine that is effective and affordable globally.”
Sharing further he said, “COVID-19 will spread to all the continents and there’s no reason for a vaccine to be restricted anywhere globally.” “It will take more than one company to solve this crisis” Chendrimada said
“We believe that it should be as simple as going to a doctor’s office and getting the injection just like any kids or any adult gets during a pre-season flu shot,” said Dr. Kamala Maddali, an executive advisor for Chimeron Bio.
Mazumdar served in clinical development leadership roles at GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceuticals in the divisions of Immuno-Oncology and did postdoctoral training at a Howard Hughes Medical Institute laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania where she explored the role of hypoxia in tumors. She sounded confident over the phone about developing a good understanding of the performance of the multiple vaccine candidates they have designed in animals in the next few months, adding animal testing have already started.
“In anticipation of success, we are simultaneously preparing to better understand the safety aspects of our vaccine and go to the FDA in September,” the couple said.
When asked whether they think the COVID-19 vaccines in general will be expensive and if it is going to be covered by insurance, the couple said at this point it is hard to say because they do not know what kind of dosing patients will need and how many times.
Sharing her opinion about COVID-19, Mazumdar said it will be a wait and watch since viruses have behaved quite differently from each other tracing back to the past 100 years. On one hand, the Spanish Flu of 1918 came back in waves and lingered much longer than people realized because eventually the virus mutated and became less harmful, on the other hand SARS did not come back.
“With COVID-19 there is a very strong feeling in the scientific community, that there may be a second wave and that the infection will come back. So, if you ask me what my thoughts are, I would say it will possibly linger longer,” she said. “And we are already seeing mutated versions.”
Going back to the advantage of technology in curing COVID types of diseases, she said, “Again, our RNA technology presents a breakthrough whereby in the same vaccine particle we can put two to three different prominent virus antigens, something that is required for the body to produce the antibody, which gives us protection.” “Therefore, in our messaging, we also say, we have the potential for making a broad-spectrum vaccine.”
Mazumdar said it is not very efficient if one has to make a new vaccine every time the virus mutates. It will be great to package multiple potent antigens in the same particle and that is something we are working on.”
Sharing her concern about COVID-19, she says there is of course an immediate need to halt the virus, but also a longer-term need for precaution considering global travel and tourism will probably pick up soon. “If this virus is indeed here to stay… We hope and pray it won’t be as deadly as the past pandemics and that the scientific community can stop it soon.”