The Pfizer Vaccine is Ready to Deploy; Let’s Talk Adjuvants

It’s impossible to avoid news about the anticipated deployment of the Pfizer vaccine right now. The United States has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine with the potential to obtain more, while the United Kingdom has already received 800,000 doses and has begun treatment. It’s tempting to focus entirely on the COVID-19 vaccine, the development of which has been the main focus of research over the past year. However, vaccine rollouts require a number of peripherals, which are worth focusing on as well. 

Adjuvants are an important part of any vaccine. Adjuvants stimulate an immune response in a vaccinated individual in order to increase the effectiveness of the vaccine. Such adjuvants can be as simple as aluminum salts, or more complex emulsions of various compounds. The adjuvants already in use in COVID-19 vaccines include AS03, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, MF59, developed by Seqirus, and CpG 1018, developed by Dynavax. While these adjuvants are not specially developed for COVID-19 vaccines (AS03 and MF59 are used in influenza vaccines and CpG 1018 is used in a Hepatitis vaccine), they nonetheless will play an important role in the upcoming vaccine deployment. It should be noted that Glaxo’s IP coverage of its AS03 appears to be relatively weak, with the family of applications dedicated to its oil-based emulsion adjuvants largely having been abandoned over a decade ago. Seqirus, on the other hand, received a patent on an adjusted adjuvant (also an oil emulsion type) mixture for an influenza vaccine less than one month ago. Dynavax appears to be dedicated to maintaining a consistent patent portfolio as Seqirus, having also received a patent covering an adjuvant in July, albeit one covering a toll-like receptor (TLR) adjuvant, rather than an oil emulsion adjuvant. 

One can expect to see increased demand, and therefore revenue, not only from the manufacturers of these adjuvants, but also for suppliers of the raw material used to make them. The oil emulsion mixtures of AS03 and MF59, for example, use squalene. Squalene-based adjuvants have previously been considered beneficial in cases of vaccines for immunocompromised individuals, who may be one of the biggest targets of vaccine rollout in the coming year. Contrary to some reporting, the increased demand in squalene will likely not lead to a massive increase in shark fishing. However, it is likely that we may see increased demand from producers of synthetic squalene such as Amyris

Looking at those adjuvants currently chosen for use in the COVID-19 vaccines should not be the end of analysis. For example, while none of the above-listed adjuvants are saponin-based, some studies have shown that saponin-based adjuvants are safe for use in COVID-19 vaccines. If so, that could be good news for Novavax, which has already received one patent on a saponin-based adjuvant and filed two more this year. Saponin-based adjuvants may be easier and cheaper to develop, especially if Amyris is unable to produce sufficient quantities of squalene. Low cost could drive use of saponin-based adjuvants or other cheap alternatives for deployment to much of the developing world, where high costs are more likely to be prohibitive. 

For more updates on adjuvants and other peripherals to vaccine deployment, check out our free Patent Forecast® for Pandemics.