Moderna trials vaccine for South African variant of Covid-19

Company also expanding capacity to increase number of doses it can produce

Moderna has produced a vaccine that works specifically against the South African variant of coronavirus, with trials due to start in the United States. Photograph:  Frederic Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Moderna has produced a vaccine that works specifically against the South African variant of coronavirus, with trials due to start in the United States. Photograph: Frederic Brown/AFP via Getty Images

 

Moderna has produced a vaccine that works specifically against the South African variant of coronavirus, with trials due to start in the United States.

The company is experimenting with several potential methods of combating new variants of coronavirus, with a view to potentially offering new or booster shots.

It comes after studies suggested that current vaccines offer less protection against the South African variant, which has a key mutation that is thought to help the virus evade parts of the immune system.

The mutation has been worrying scientists and is also found in the Brazil variant of the virus as well as some cases of the UK variant.

Moderna is looking at whether an additional booster shot targeting the South African variant could be given to people, and is working on a combined jab that mixes its current vaccine with the new one.

Clinical trial

Doses of the Moderna shot to tackle the South African variant have been shipped to the US National Institutes of Health to prepare for a clinical trial, Moderna said in a statement.

But the new version is probably months away from public use. The company outlined several possible approaches for evaluating the experimental form. Initial test results may be available by summer, Dr Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview.

Moderna’s vaccine uses genetic material called mRNA, a technology that allows researchers to create and adapt vaccines much faster than traditional methods.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also based on mRNA, and Dr Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, said last month that the company could produce a new version within about six weeks if necessary.

The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on Monday that new versions of existing vaccines, adapted to target variants of the coronavirus, would not have to go through the same large trials in 30,000 or 40,000 patients as the first vaccines did.

Moderna said that its original vaccine still provides some protection against the variant, but that “out of an abundance of caution”, the company would pursue several new approaches.

Expand capacity

Moderna has also begun to increase its overall manufacturing capacity, the company announced on Wednesday, adding that it expected this would enable it to manufacture 1.4 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine in 2022.

That figure assumes that a dose is 100 micrograms, but if research finds that smaller amounts are effective, the number of doses would be even higher.

Moderna also said that its production plan for 2021 had increased, to 700 million doses from 600 million, and that it was trying to “potentially deliver up to 1 billion doses in fiscal year 2021”.

The company said it had already shipped 60 million doses globally, including about 55 million to the US government, and expected to complete delivery of the first 100 million US doses by the end of the first quarter of 2021, the second 100 million by the end of May and the third 100 million by the end of July. – PA/New York Times