New tobacco-based flu vaccine offers promising alternative to egg-based versions, says GlobalData analyst

This virus-like particle (VLP) influenza vaccine is being developed by Japan's Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma

A new tobacco-based virus-like particle (VLP) influenza vaccine being developed by Japan's Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma could potentially rival traditional chicken egg-based vaccines, according to an analyst with research and consulting firm GlobalData.

The vaccine, currently in Phase III studies, is expected to be launched in the US for the 2018–19 flu season.

The technology, originally developed by Canadian firm Medicago, which was acquired by Mitsubishi Tanabe for US$357m in 2013, involves implanting influenza genetic material into tobacco leaves. The technology enables vaccine production in four weeks, six times faster than egg-based methods.

Achilleas Livieratos, GlobalData’s Analyst covering Infectious Diseases, says there are a number of limitations with the use of egg-based vaccines, leaving a substantial need for alternatives.

'As well as taking six months to work, during which time minor genetic mutations can decrease vaccine efficacy, individuals with egg allergies cannot safely receive vaccines, leaving them vulnerable to infection,' he says.

Mitsubishi Tanabe’s pipeline tobacco product is one of a number of VLP influenza vaccines set to take over from the traditional kind

'A number of vaccine giants including Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and MedImmune/AstraZeneca are also developing their vaccine portfolios. However, their current egg-based, quadrivalent, inactivated (split virus) seasonal influenza vaccines lack the manufacturing efficiency of tobacco plant-derived vaccines that can also generate virus-like particles (VLPs).'

Livieratos adds that Novavax has already advanced its insect cell-based VLP seasonal influenza vaccine candidate into Phase III of clinical development, ahead of Mitsubishi Tanabe. But he says important differences exist between plant-based and conventional cell culture-based production methods, as the former boasts reduced infrastructure cost and half the production time compared with the latter.

Livieratos continues: 'Mitsubishi Tanabe’s pipeline tobacco product is one of a number of VLP influenza vaccines set to take over from the traditional kind, as they represent an exciting emerging vaccine class that can generate effective and longer-lasting protection while also being amenable to a diverse array of production methods.

'Mitsubishi Tanabe will need to demonstrate strong safety data and yearly production consistency of its tobacco-based vaccine. If the company’s product, or one like it, is approved, GlobalData expects a novel vaccine that boasts a rapid, plant-based manufacturing process to have a significant impact on the seasonal influenza vaccine landscape.'

Companies