GlaxoSmithKline unveiled positive interim results from mid-term trials of a Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with Canadian biotech company Medicago, a day after releasing solid data from its vaccine collaboration with the French drug maker 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, New York hedge fund Elliott Management, which has took a significant stake in April.
The British drug maker and Quebec-based Medicago said the vaccine, a herbal vaccine, triggered levels of protective antibodies 10 times higher than in patients recovering from Covid-19. The response was similar in all age groups who received two doses three weeks apart, without serious side effects.
Up to 30,000 volunteers are signing up for phase 3 trials of the Medicago vaccine, which can be stored in the refrigerator, in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil. It has received an expedited designation by the US health regulator and companies are hoping it will hit the market in late summer or early fall.
Many low- and middle-income countries are struggling to get enough Covid vaccines to immunize their populations. India’s crisis is worsening, with a record 4,329 deaths in the past 24 hours.
GSK provides an adjuvant, designed to stimulate the body’s immune response, to the vaccine developed by Medicago, similar to its collaboration with Sanofi.
The vaccine project with Sanofi suffered delays, but on Monday, GSK and Sanofi said interim results from a mid-term trial showed a “strong neutralizing antibody response” in all adult age groups and did not raise any safety concerns, meaning the vaccine will move on to advanced clinical trials within weeks and could be on the market at the end of the year.
Walmsley, who plans to separate GSK’s consumer health division from the pharmaceutical and vaccine business next year, is under pressure to improve the company’s performance. The stock price has fallen 15% since taking the helm four years ago, as the company struggles to keep up with rivals and rebuild its portfolio of new drugs.
David Cumming, chief investment officer at Aviva Investors, became the first major shareholder to speak publicly this week, saying GSK’s potential “was not coming true” and “the jury is still out on its future.”
However, GSK’s largest investor, BlackRock, along with Dodge & Cox and Royal London Asset Management, have reportedly pledged their management support. It is believed that many investors support the company’s strategy and do not want management to be distracted from it.