Dr. Alex Romanovschi is GSK Canada’s Country Medical Director. Alex is a physician with nearly 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry spanning many therapeutic areas, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory and other specialty care. He spoke to IMC about GSK’s actions to support the development of an adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine.
IMC: Many pharmaceutical companies along with academic and research institutions are coming together to find a vaccine to help protect people from future outbreaks of the virus. What actions is GSK taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like many of our industry peers, GSK is committed to supporting the fight against the novel coronavirus. Since the outbreak began, we’ve been actively exploring ways to help with our science and our expertise.
Since early February, we’ve announced, globally, six collaborations with companies and research groups across the world working on COVID-19 vaccine candidates through the use of our innovative vaccine adjuvant technology, AS03. We believe that – at the moment – entering into collaborations with partners that have promising candidate vaccine technologies is the most positive approach to addressing the needs for a COVID-19 vaccine. This includes collaborations with the University of Queensland through CEPI, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Xiamen Innovax Biotech Co., Ltd and most recently Sanofi.
Additionally, we’re also supporting screening and research into potential medicines to treat or prevent COVID-19. For example, in April we announced a collaboration with Vir Biotechnology to identify new, and accelerate existing, anti-viral antibodies that could be used as therapeutic or preventative options for COVID-19. GSK is also evaluating its marketed pharmaceutical products and medicines in development to determine if any could be used beyond their current indications in response to the pandemic.
IMC: For the last 20 years, GSK has been working on ways to improve vaccines by using adjuvants. What is the role an adjuvant plays in enhancing the body’s immune response to vaccines?
Simply put, adjuvants help vaccines work better.
An adjuvant is an ingredient added to some vaccines to boost the body’s immune response, which means less vaccine is needed for the same result. This is particularly important in a pandemic situation as more vaccine doses can be available to help protect people around the world.
IMC: How can GSK’s adjuvant help in the fight against COVID-19?
Today, scientific research has led to the development of adjuvant systems known as “AS families”. GSK’s AS03 is the same adjuvant that has been used in our H1N1 and H5N1 pandemic influenza vaccines. AS03 has shown the ability to induce cross-immunity or cross-protection to allow for broader protection. As with the seasonal strains of influenza, pandemic strains are expected to change slightly or ‘drift’ over time – the adjuvant allows preparation of a pandemic vaccine that can protect against these potentially drifted strains.
In the context of flu pandemic vaccines, adjuvants – and specifically AS03 – have shown to induce a stronger and broader immune response which made it possible to reduce the antigen dose, hence allowing more vaccine doses to be produced.
IMC: How is GSK supporting frontline health workers as we continue to tackle the virus?
Alongside our global efforts to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic with our science and expertise, our Canadian operations have been actively exploring ways to support the local fight against the virus and have proudly taken a Canada-wide approach to supporting relief efforts.
To date, GSK has been able to donate 1,500 N-95 masks to the Government of Quebec, 1,500 N-95 masks to the Government of Ontario and a further 500 masks to a child care center in Ste. Foy, Quebec. Additionally, in our effort to support front-line health workers, we’ve donated 2.5 pallets of PPE to the Region of Peel which will be shared between long-term care facilities and paramedics in the Peel region.
From a philanthropic perspective, we’ve also allotted:
- $650,000 in corporate donations in support of charitable needs across the country during the pandemic;
- $120,000 toward matching employee donations to charitable organizations in a 2:1 ratio;
- Over $90,000 towards patient groups, who represent some of the people facing greatest risk during the pandemic; and
- A total of four paid volunteering days in 2020, enabling GSK employees to provide support to a charity or an NGO of their choice in their communities.