Later but warmer. Hot on the heels of Pfizer’s breakthrough in the battle against Covid-19, a German company says it can store its vaccine in a normal fridge.12 November 2020
Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac CEO
Following Pfizer’s dramatic unveiling of a 90%-plus effectiveness rate from its pivotal Covid-19 vaccine study earlier this week, less affluent countries and regions around the world have begun to wonder if they will be frozen out of the picture.
The vaccine has to be shipped in temperatures below -70 degrees celsius and then used within 5 days of being thawed. And there are plenty of countries that say they can’t afford to go that route.
Its production is costly and its component is unstable. It requires cold-chain transportation and has a short shelf life.
Florian von der Mülbe
Pfizer and their partners at BioNTech say that’s just a necessary aspect of what may well be the first messenger RNA vaccine ever produced. But this morning, rivals at Germany’s other mRNA biotech, CureVac, say they have solved the cold storage issue.
And they proved it by keeping their vaccine stable for 3 months simply using standard refrigeration methods at +5°C (+41°F). Another batch was kept at below -60°C (-76°F) .
Florian von der Mülbe, the chief production officer at CureVac, says the vaccine also proved stable when kept at room temperature for 24 hours.
Countries looking to import that vaccine can use “the normal fridge everybody has,” says Mariola Fotin-Mleczek, the chief technology officer at CureVac. “This is absolutely a huge advantage.”
Fotin-Mleczek declined to comment on why the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine demands ultra-low temperatures for storage, saying they have never done a direct comparison. But in CureVac’s case, she attributed the storage solution to the compact structure of the mRNA vaccine they’ve developed.
Put simply, their use of natural mRNA allows for compact packaging inside their lipid nanoparticle formulation. The more compact it is, the less attack surface remains for hydrolysis, preventing degradation that would otherwise require deep freezing. And that’s something they also worked on with their earlier rabies vaccine program.
CureVac is well behind the mRNA leaders, where Moderna — which has a vaccine that requires storage at a more easily achievable minus 20 degrees Celsius — is expected to release its first round of interim data within days now.
But still, CureVac executives expect to be ready to roll out their vaccine during the first three months of next year. CEO Franz-Werner Haas told reporters today that they could land an approval within months, and that could still prove to be timely for a large swathe of the globe that can’t handle Pfizer’s ultra-low temperatures.
Pfizer, meanwhile, says it’s working on a dry powder version of the vaccine that can get around the storage issues.