Moderna said Monday it was speeding up work on a Covid-19 booster shot to protect against the recently discovered variant in South Africa.
The researchers said that the current coronavirus vaccine appears to work against the two highly communicable strains found in the UK and South Africa, although it may be less effective against the latter.
The two-dose vaccine produced an antibody response against several variants, including B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which were first identified in the UK and South Africa, respectively. This was the result of a Moderna study carried out in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
The vaccine produced a weaker immune response against the South African tribe, but the antibodies remained above levels expected to protect against the virus, the company said, adding that the results may indicate a “potential risk of previous weight loss of immunity to the new “indicate B.1.351 strains.
“Out of caution and taking advantage of the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are bringing an ambitious variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa to the clinic in order to determine whether it is more effective to increase the titre against it.” these and possibly future variants, “said Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a statement.
Moderna shares rose nearly 4% in premarket trading after the announcement.
Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, said he was glad Moderna is preparing for the possibility that the virus could mutate enough to evade the protection of current vaccines.
“This is not yet a problem,” said Offit, also a member of the FDA’s Advisory Committee on Vaccines and Related Biological Products. “Prepare for it. Sequencing these viruses. Be ready in case a variant appears that is resistance to the vaccine.”
On Thursday, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, new data showed that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus. Some early results posted on the bioRxiv preprint server indicate that the South African variant can evade the antibodies of some coronavirus treatments.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Moderna’s vaccine for people aged 18 and over in December.
Moderna’s vaccine, like Pfizer’s, uses messenger RNA or mRNA technology. It’s a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to trigger an immune response. Late-stage clinical trial data released in November shows that Moderna Covid’s vaccine is more than 94% effective at preventing, safe and appearing to ward off serious illness. For maximum effectiveness, the vaccine requires two doses four weeks apart.
Bancel told CNBC that Moderna’s vaccine will protect against the South African tribe in the short term, but the company doesn’t know how long that protection could last.
“What is currently unknown is what will happen in six months, twelve months, especially in the elderly because, as you know, they have weaker immune systems,” he said during an interview with Squawk Box. “Because of this unknown … we decided, out of caution, to bring a new vaccine to the clinic.”
“We cannot lag behind. We cannot fall behind this virus,” he said, adding that the virus “will continue to mutate”.
–CNBC’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.