Drugmakers expect tests to confirm efficacy of vaccines against novel variant of coronavirus


ZURICH / FRANKFURT (Reuters) – At least four drugmakers expect their COVID-19 vaccines to be effective against the new, rapidly spreading variant of the virus that is raging in Britain and are carrying out tests that should provide an confirmation in a few weeks.

A woman holds vials labeled “COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine” on dry ice in this illustration taken December 5, 2020. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

Ugur Sahin, managing director of German company BioNTech, which along with partner Pfizer Inc took less than a year to get a vaccine approved, said on Tuesday he expects his messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine still works fine.

Moderna Inc, Germany’s CureVac and UK drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc also believe their shots will work against the new threat that has wreaked havoc in Britain, sparking a wave of travel bans disrupting trade with the Europe and threaten to further isolate the island country.

“Scientifically, it is very likely that the immune response of this vaccine can also treat this variant of the virus,” he said on a call with reporters.

Sahin said it would take about two more weeks of study and data collection to get a definitive answer.

“The vaccine contains over 1270 amino acids, and only nine of them are changed (in the mutated virus). This means that 99% of protein is always the same. “

The mutation known as the B.1.1.7 lineage can be up to 70% more infectious and of greater concern to children.

In the event that the variant presents an unexpected challenge to vaccine developers, an advantage of mRNA is that scientists can quickly reconfigure the genetic material of the shot to match that of the mutated protein, while altering the traditional vaccines would require additional steps.

“In principle, the beauty of mRNA technology is that we can directly start to design a vaccine that completely mimics this new mutation,” Sahin said.

“We might be able to technically deliver a new vaccine in six weeks. Of course, this is not just a technical question. We have to deal with how the regulators … would see this.

Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna and CureVac have all developed mRNA vaccines, while AstraZeneca has a more traditional vaccine that uses an adenovirus found in chimpanzees to provide genetic material for the coronavirus to stimulate an immune response.

Germany’s CureVac started late-stage clinical trials on its vaccine candidate last week and is constantly examining variants, which the company says are common as viruses spread.

Britain’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said on Saturday that the vaccines appeared sufficient to generate an immune response to the coronavirus variant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it will convene a members’ meeting to discuss strategies to combat the mutation.

Reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Rama Venkat and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Patricia Weiss in Frankfurt; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Lisa Shumaker


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