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Protein-Based COVID-19 Vaccines Could Alter the Pandemic

Current COVID 19 vaccinations are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) and viral-vector technologies. These types of vaccines have been linked to rare but potentially severe side effects, including heart inflammation and blood clots.

Some vaccine hold-outers are waiting on vaccines that are based on more tried and tested techniques. These vaccines are built from purified proteins.

Protein-based vaccines have been in use for decades and have been used to protect people from shingles, hepatitis, and other viral-based infections. These protein vaccines deliver “proteins, along with immunity-stimulating adjuvants, directly to a person’s cell rather than a fragment of genetic code that the cells must read to synthesize the proteins themselves.”

Protein vaccines are not in widespread use for COVID-19 yet but several late-stage clinical trial data is looking very promising. These trials are showing significant protections from the virus with fewer side effects than its mRNA vaccine counterparts.

Novavax (NVAX), a publicly-traded company, is planning to submit its long-awaited application for its protein-based vaccine to US drug regulators before the end of this year. Indonesia granted Novavax’s protein vaccine its first emergency authority. Novavax has made regulatory filings in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, European Union and other countries. In Asia, Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Biological E in India are also on track to file with regulators for protein-based vaccines for COVID-19.

Protein-based vaccines are intrinsically slower to create than other vaccine technologies.

Sanofi (SNYNF) and GSK are also companies in late state testing of its protein-based vaccines. These trials involve thousands of participants in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A list of 6 companies that are in late-stage trials of protein-based vaccines are below:



Vaccine type

Cell manufacturing system

Biological E

Hyderabad, India

Soluble protein

Microbial cells (yeast)

Clover Biopharmaceuticals

Chengdu, China

Soluble protein

Mammalian cells (hamster ovary)


Quebec City, Canada

Virus-like particle

Plant cells (tobacco-like Nicotiana benthamiana)


Gaithersburg, Maryland

Protein nanoparticle

Insect cells (fall armyworm)


Paris/Brentford, UK

Soluble protein

Insect cells (fall armyworm)

SK bioscience

Seongnam, South Korea

Protein nanoparticle

Mammalian cells (human

COVID-19 protein-based vaccine “is not a substandard approach just because it took longer,” says Ryan Spencer, chief executive of Dynavax Technologies of Emeryville. A California company that manufacturers the Clover Biopharmaceuticals vaccine’s adjuvant. Dynavax Technologies (DVAX) is a publicly-traded company.

Not all protein-based vaccines are made the same. The form of the spike protein used by each manufacturer differs. Some of them use single proteins, while others use triads. Some of the manufacturers use full-length spike proteins, while others use fragments. And some proteins are packaged altogether into nanoparticles while others are free-floating.

Protein-based vaccines could act as boosters to those already vaccinated with mRNA jabs. Currently, mRNA jabs are used as boosters, but there is still a growing concern of the mRNA tolerability in people.

The use of a protein-based vaccine after an mRNA jab could be an effective mix-and-match strategy to help defeat COVID-19.

Once all the testing is completed and the protein-shots become approved to be administered, protein shots are expected to be deployed to supply shortages of vaccinations in lower-income countries.

Ralf Clemens who is a vaccine-industry specialists and adviser to Clover says mRNA-based vaccines had the advantage of speed to market, but protein-based vaccines have more to offer in effectiveness and less side-effects. And Ralf Clemens also says when it comes to protecting humans against the coronavirus infections, he thinks protein-based vaccines will prevail.





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