After São Paulo, federal government announces its own Brazilian vaccine

After São Paulo, federal government announces its own Brazilian vaccine
Science and Technology Minister Marcos Pontes. Photo: Wilson Dias/ABr

Brazil’s Science and Technology Minister Marcos Pontes announced on Friday afternoon that the federal government has requested authorization to begin human trials on a Brazilian coronavirus vaccine.

The timing of the announcement — and its improvised fashion — suggests a reaction to news earlier today from São Paulo Governor João Doria, of a new vaccine developed by the Butantan Biological Institute. “From my point of view, one thing has nothing to do with the other,” said Mr. Pontes — who made sure to highlight that the federally-backed vaccine is closer to approval than São Paulo’s.

UPDATE: Despite claims by the São Paulo government, the Butanvac is not 100-percent Brazilian. It has, in reality, been developed by the Icahn School of Medicine at New York-based Mount Sinai Health System. In December 2020, the hospital published a study describing the possibility of using the current influenza virus vaccine production capacity to manufacture an egg-based inactivated Newcastle disease virus.

The federal government and the state of São Paulo have staged a battle when it comes to vaccines — backed up by a political feud between President Jair Bolsonaro and Mr. Doria. Tensions between the two are so high that Butantan conducted its pre-clinical trials in a hush-hush manner, presumably to avoid boycotts from federal authorities. 

Back in January, the Economy Ministry denied BRL 390 million (USD 73 million) in emergency credit requested by the Science and Technology Ministry for the development of a Brazilian vaccine against Covid-19 — advertised by President Jair Bolsonaro last week. The economic team said the requirement didn’t meet standards of “urgency and unpredictability” to justify reshuffling a federal budget that is already cut to the bone.

Versamune one of 15 potential Brazilian vaccines

The federal immunizer, dubbed Versamune, is being developed by the University of São Paulo in Ribeirão Preto in partnership with biotechnology companies Farmacore and U.S. firm PDSBiotech. The Brazilian Report discussed that vaccine — as well as other vaccine projects being developed by Brazilian startups — in last week’s Tech Roundup.

Versamune is a vaccine combining a recombinant protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with a proprietary technology by PDSBiotech to activate an immune response. Preliminary data suggests a “broad and robust” response, Farmacore said.

Mr. Pontes told reporters that a total of 15 potential coronavirus vaccines are under development in Brazil.