CSL Limited (ASX: CSL) announced some disappointing UQ COVID-19 vaccine news today.
Here’s what happened
CSL said that the University of Queensland (UQ) announced today its phase 1 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine showed that it elicited a robust response towards the virus and has a strong safety profile with no serious adverse events or safety concerns in 216 trial participants.
However, whilst CSL and UQ were working towards phases 2 and 3 of a clinical trial and large scale manufacture of the vaccine upon successful completion of the trials, there was a major setback revealed in the first phase of the trial.
The phase 1 data showed the generation of antibodies directed towards the molecular clamp component of the vaccine. These antibodies interfere with certain HIV diagnostic tests. The potential for this cross-reaction had been anticipated before the trial commenced and participants were informed this could occur.
Blood tests showed that these molecular clamp antibodies did cause a false positive on a range of HIV tests. Follow up tests confirmed there is no HIV virus present, just the false positive. CSL confirmed there is no possibility the vaccine causes infection.
With advice from experts, CSL and UEQ have worked through the implications of this rolling out to the broad population. It is generally agreed that significant changes would be needed to well-established HIV testing to accommodate the rollout of this vaccine.
Therefore, CSL and the Australian Government have agreement vaccine development will not proceed to the next phase of the trial.
The phase 1 trial will continue to see how long the antibodies persist. Studies so far are showing that levels are already falling.
UQ vaccine co-lead, Professor Paul Young, said that although it was possible to re-engineer the vaccine, the team did not have the luxury of time needed: “Doing so would set back development by another 12 or so months, and while this is a tough decision to take, the urgent need for a vaccine has to be everyone’s priority.”
It’s disappointing that there won’t be an ‘Australian-made’ vaccine available. But the public need to have confidence in what’s distributed nationally.
CSL is currently working on manufacturing 30 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine and with the first doses planned for release early next year. CSL has agreed to manufacture another 20 million doses.
CSL doesn’t expect this will impact previous FY21 guidance.
There are a few other vaccine candidates which can seemingly provide the protection society needs. This doesn’t change my investment thoughts, I still think a business like Pushpay Holdings Ltd (ASX: PPH) looks attractive for the long term at this price.