Vaccine manufacturers preparing for mutant coronavirus strains

California naval hospitals are administering the first Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine shipments

Photographer: Bing Guan / Bloomberg

Drug makers who designed the first Covid-19 vaccine to get permission from Western regulators say they could reset the blow to counter a new strain in just six weeks if needed.

BioNTech SE CEO Ugur Sahin said he was confident that the inoculation with which his company had grown Pfizer Inc. will work very well against the rapidly spreading variant of coronavirus that creates alarms in the UK and beyond. If the current shooting fails to be adequately protective, however, the company could change it by updating small pieces of genetic information called messenger RNA that their vaccine uses.

“The beauty of RNA messenger technology is that we can directly start designing a vaccine that completely mimics this new mutation,” Sahin told a news conference Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, Moderna Inc. indicated that he believed that his vaccine would continue to protect people from the virus and that he was performing confirmatory tests.

Authorities from the European Medicines Agency to the British government have said no evidence to suggest that the strain, called B.1.1.7, is likely to escape coronavirus vaccines. Most Covid photos target the spike protein the virus uses to enter cells, and only minor changes have been detected in the new versions, according to Morgan Stanley analyst David Risinger.

Full immunogenicity

“All currently identified strains, including B.1.1.7, carry only sporadic point mutations in the spike protein, which are thought to be unlikely to disrupt the full spectrum of their immunogenicity,” Risinger said in a note.

Moderna fell 9% in New York, Pfizer fell 1.7% and BioNTech’s US revenue fell 5.5%. Moderna has grown more than sixfold since the beginning of the year, while BioNTech’s ADRs have almost tripled.

Countries around the world are restricting travel to and from the UK because of concerns about the variant, which officials said could be up to 70% more transmissible than others. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has closed London, citing the threat of the strain.

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The British authorities have said that although the variant is widespread in London and the south-east of England, there is no reason to believe that it causes more serious diseases than previous versions. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser on Operation Warp Speed, Covid’s vaccine and drug acceleration program in the United States, said there was no clear evidence that it was more transmissible.

However, drug manufacturers are conducting tests to determine how well they will defend their fires against new strains. AstraZeneca Plc, The Oxford University partner said in a statement that it is investigating the impact of the mutation, and the company does not believe it will affect its effectiveness. BioNTech said its tests will take about two weeks. Paris-based Sanofi said it would test the vaccine’s experimental efficacy against any new variants.

Constant testing

Moderna has tested its vaccine against previous strains and expects it to be “protective against variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus recently described in the UK,” according to an email. We will perform additional vaccine tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation.

German biotechnology CureVac NV said it is constantly testing its Covid-19 experimental hit against various mutations. Although it does not believe its product will be less effective than the UK version, it could also come up with a new version within six weeks, the company said in an email.

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