Covifenz is made from proteins, grown in plants, that look like the virus that causes COVID-19 to the human immune system. Image Credit: AP

The world's first plant-derived COVID-19 vaccine was cleared for use in Canada, creating a novel immunization to combat the virus from a unit of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. and Philip Morris International.

The vaccine named Covifenz was jointly developed by Medicago Inc., a biopharma company owned by Mitsubishi Chemical and Philip Morris and based in Quebec City, and GlaxoSmithKline Plc. It will be available for adults aged 18 to 64, Medicago and Glaxo said in a statement Thursday.

The approval gives people who are hesitant to take currently available vaccines made by Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. another option. Many countries are struggling to raise vaccination rates and are requiring citizens to be immunized to get into restaurants, shopping malls trains and planes.

The company hopes Covifenz will generate about $1 billion a year eventually, Mitsubishi Chemical's Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Gilson said in an interview last week. The vaccine is easier to transport and store than rival mRNA shots, such as those from Pfizer and Moderna, since it doesn't need to be kept at ultra-low temperatures, he said.

Covifenz is made from proteins, grown in plants, that look like the virus that causes COVID-19 to the human immune system, according to Medicago's website. The vaccine also uses Glaxo's pandemic adjuvant, a substance that boosts the immune system's response.

Medicago has a contract with the Canadian government to supply up to 76 million doses of the vaccine and is in talks with other countries about potential agreements, Chief Executive Officer Takashi Nagao has said. The immunization was granted fast-track designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February 2021.

The vaccine demonstrated 71% efficacy against multiple variants of the virus in December, Medicago said. It was 75% effective against the highly-infectious delta variant and nearly 89% effective against the gamma variant first identified in Brazil. The omicron variant wasn't circulating when the trial was conducted, and the company is planning future tests against that strain.