The Spanish pharma industry has entered the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines through an unexpected contender: an animal health company. HIPRA, headquartered in Catalonia, has received approval to begin human trials and expects to manufacture over 400 million doses in 2022.
While Spain ranks amongst the top 10 countries in terms of scientific publications per year, it sits in a lowly 30th position in the latest Global Innovation Index. Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that up until now, Spanish research institutions and companies have not been at the forefront of developing vaccines and therapies against COVID-19.
The race was won by private and public institutions from Russia, the US, China, Germany and the UK, but, considering waning immunity from currently approved vaccines and subsequent need for booster shots in the foreseeable future, opportunities still abound in the COVID-19 vaccine space, with the market expected to grow beyond 2023. Analysts forecast revenue of over USD 6.6 billion for the Pfizer shot in 2023, mostly from booster sales.
Aiming to provide a vote of confidence to the Spanish R&D ecosystem, an unexpected contender, HIPRA, a Catalan multinational private company predominantly dedicated to the research, production and marketing of animal health products, has recently announced a breakthrough in their quest to launch the first Spanish-made COVID-19 vaccine.
The Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) has authorized clinical trials for HIPRA’s vaccine candidate, the first developed in Spain to reach the stage of being trialed on humans.
The Europa Press agency has reported that the trials will involve phase I/II dose escalation trials. The candidate uses the same underlying technology used for the Novavax and Sanofi/GSK vaccines, which are under review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). HIPRA’s vaccine, unlike those two, contains proteins from two different variants. The project has received financial support from the CDTI (Spanish Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology).
The company expects to begin large-scale manufacturing of the vaccine in October and plans to produce 400 million doses in 2022. Their strategy “covers the various vaccination scenarios, effectiveness against different variants and the most likely and increasingly necessary booster doses.”
The animal health company behind the breakthrough
While HIPRA is just entering the human health space, it is a renowned name in animal health, particularly for biologics where it ranks sixth globally by turnover. The company is present in 39 countries through its own commercial affiliates and reaches 100 countries with a global distribution network.
Being a private company, it does not publish exact financial information but, according to Spanish media reports, HIPRA reported a profit of EUR 48.7 million and 319 million in revenue in 2019.
As a differentiating element, HIPRA does not outsource any of its processes, something they describe as “a key aspect of our corporate identity.”
The company has developed and launched more animal vaccines onto the market in the last ten years than any other firm, according to their website, and reinvests around ten percent of revenue in R&D.
Before entering the COVID-19 vaccine development space, HIPRA focused on vaccines, diagnostic kits, and pharmaceuticals within animal health, including solutions for swine, poultry, cattle, sheep, rabbits, fish, and dogs.
If their digital communication strategy is to be believed, the decision to enter human health could be a pivotal moment in the company’s history: “At HIPRA we’ve gone one step forward with the incorporation of our Human Health division that, together with Animal Health, will allow us to explore new horizons.”