Apr 4, 2024 - Health

Don't count us out yet, Novavax says

An image of the Novavax logo with a syringe and vial of vaccine in the foreground.

Photo: Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images

After losing out on the COVID-19 vaccine race, Novavax is hoping its experimental combo flu-COVID vaccine can help turn around its fortunes.

  • But it finds itself in a familiar position of playing catch-up.

Why it matters: A year after it warned about its ability to remain in business, the Maryland company is trailing Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna in the development of a combination product that would reduce the need for multiple shots during respiratory virus season.

  • Company officials in an interview on the sidelines of this week's World Vaccine Congress sounded an optimistic tone that they won't get crowded out of the combo vaccine market.
  • "I think there's room for multiple players. And you know, who knows how this market is going to evolve in two seasons, right?" said executive vice president Silvia Taylor.

Driving the news: Pfizer and Moderna have Phase 3 trials well underway for their combo products, and Novavax plans to start its late-stage trial this fall. If successful, it's planning for a 2026 launch.

  • Novavax executives said their work is building off a highly effective flu shot candidate the company announced in February 2020, before it turned its attention to COVID.
  • Despite a big investment from Operation Warp Speed, manufacturing delays prevented the company from getting its COVID shot onto the market until July 2022. By that time, demand had shrunk significantly.
  • Novavax execs say they're rethinking marketing strategy for the next rollout. They said the company focused too much on getting their COVID shot in doctors' offices rather than pharmacies, and that they underestimated providers' preference for single-dose vials, which they didn't offer.

Between the lines: Unlike the mRNA-based platforms Pfizer and Moderna use, Novavax's protein-based shot relies on technology that's been in use for much longer.

  • The company sees that as a selling point for some who are more comfortable with older technology, though there's still been relatively little takeup of its COVID shot.
  • "We see in certain places like Florida where there is a very strong, anti-mRNA bent that we actually are being embraced,'" Taylor said. "We do not condone that. But you can't deny that it ends up being an opportunity."
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