Experts hope new Eyam–UBC licensing agreement will allow for more affordable COVID-19 vaccine candidates

Eyam Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics reached an agreement on December 2, 2020 with UBC to license several COVID-19 vaccine candidates developed by UBC researchers.

According to Dr. Reno Pontarollo, Eyam’s President and Chief Operating Officer, the licensing agreement will give Eyam exclusive licensing to self-amplifying mRNA vaccine technology, developed by UBC’s immunologist Dr. Wilf Jefferies.

“We can improve existing vaccines with this technology because it has a potential to be safer at lower doses, and so there is less chance of contraindications or adverse reactions,” said Pontarollo.

Founded in May 2020, Eyam is set to finish its pre-clinical trials in the coming months using Dr. Jefferies’ vaccine technology platform.

“My biggest hope is that we are able to apply this whole platform beyond COVID-19,” said Pontarollo. “There are many diseases out there in humans that don’t have a vaccine. There are diseases in animals that don’t have a vaccine.”

While Eyam is relatively early in the vaccine development timeline, this is a step forward, wrote Dr. Mahesh Nagarajan, UBC professor of operations and logistics at the Sauder School of Business.

Benefits to come out of the Eyam–UBC collaboration, according to Nagarajan, could include more affordable and efficient COVID-19 vaccine candidates due to mRNA technology and a more favourable vaccine delivery schedule.

This vision is shared by Pontarollo as he hopes to optimize COVID-19 vaccine candidates and others with Jefferies’ technology.

“It is not just about Canada,” wrote Nagarajan. “There are lots of people in the world who won’t be able to access Moderna, Pfizer or even AstraZeneca’s vaccines anytime soon. So, new vaccines are good.”

UBC spokesperson Thandi Fletcher wrote in a statement that UBC’s collaboration with Eyam is just one example of UBC’s collaborations aimed at responding to the pandemic.

“As British Columbia’s leading research university, UBC is uniquely positioned to enable and accelerate the critical work being done to combat COVID-19,” Fletcher wrote.

Pontarollo said Eyam anticipates a long-term relationship with UBC.

“They have always been a good partner for industry and a great source of novel and new ideas with the creative scientists that they have,” he said.