Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer Inc, poses for a portrait in one of their laboratories in Pearl River, New York.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
The mRNA technology used to develop the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine could also help provide “more effective” seasonal flu shots, Kathrin Jansen, director of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, told CNBC.
How well flu vaccines work can vary from season to season. In general, flu vaccinations reduce the risk of illness from influenza viruses by 40% to 60%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jansen said the reason flu vaccine effectiveness varies is because influenza viruses are constantly changing, and a strain that was common one earlier season may not be as common in the next. Scientists need to constantly monitor strains and choose which to include in the flu vaccine each year.
Sometimes scientists make choices that don’t go well together, Jansen said. However, with the flexibility of mRNA technology, scientists could quickly “pan” the flu vaccine and adapt it to the more dominant strain, she said.
“I think the great success of mRNA vaccines in fighting Covid-19 has clearly opened up a multitude of possibilities,” Jansen said in comments aired Tuesday during the CNBC Healthy Returns Summit.
“We want better vaccines for the elderly,” she said in an interview with CNBC’s Meg Tirrell, who are at risk for serious illnesses. “This is a very powerful approach, in my opinion, in moving us towards ultimately more effective seasonal influenza vaccines.”
Jansen’s comments come after Pfizer had great success with its mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine.
Messenger RNA or mRNA technology has been in development for years, but Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines mark the first time mRNA has been approved for use in humans. The mRNA-based Covid vaccine fools the body into producing a harmless piece of the virus and triggers an immune response. It is said to be easier to produce than traditional vaccines, which generally use a dead or weakened virus to elicit an immune response.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine in March last year and filed an application for emergency approval with the Food and Drug Administration in November.
In a clinical study, the vaccine was found to be about 95% effective at two doses three weeks apart.
When Pfizer released its earnings report for the first quarter last week, it expects the vaccine to have total annual sales of $ 26 billion, compared to its previous guidance of approximately $ 15 billion. Adjusted pre-tax profit in the high sales range of 20% is expected for the vaccine.
Pfizer executives told investors they also hope to see improvements over current flu vaccines. They said that given the strong immune response for the Covid-19 vaccine, they hope the same will be the case for an mRNA-based flu vaccine. Rival Moderna is also working on a flu vaccine using mRNA technology.
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