Belgium has attracted a large number of major pharmaceutical firms, such as Pfizer (US), GSK (UK), world leader in vaccine development and manufacturing and Johnson & Johnson (US), parent company of Flanders-based Janssen Pharmaceutica. These companies are currently involved in the search for a vaccine against COVID-19, and several have already made significant progress.
In collaboration with immunotherapy company BioNTech, Pfizer is working on four coronavirus vaccine candidates. The clinical trials for these vaccines have already been approved in Germany and the US. If one of the candidates is proven effective, Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Puurs (Flanders) will be one of the four main centers to produce the vaccine. Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson has also reached a breakthrough in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. Its Flanders subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceutica, developed a viable vaccine candidate in March. The company hopes to start production before the end of 2020.
Other pharma players working on COVID-19 in Flanders include Ziphius Therapeutics and Etherna Immunotherapies. Biotech firm Ziphius is building on the expertise of UGent, one of Flanders’ five universities, to develop a vaccine candidate which can be administered through the nose. At the moment, research is still at an early stage, but the firm expects to start clinical trials in fall 2020. Etherna Immunotherapies, is also working on a nasal vaccine with the help of VUB, one of Flanders’ universities. The company is part of a consortium of European and North American firms. While development is still in the lab phase, the goal is to start testing in early 2021.
Meanwhile, at the Rega Institute for Medical Research – which is part of KU Leuven, Flanders’ oldest university –, a vaccine prototype is ready for animal testing. At the same time, the research center is screening components of existing medicines for properties that may inhibit the coronavirus.