Astrazeneca aims to produce a “next generation” Covid-19 vaccine especially suited to new mutations as soon as the autumn, a senior executive said today.
Mene Pangalos, a senior research chief at the British-Swedish firm, said Astrazeneca will start developing a new vaccine for the mutated strains and will look to make them public “as rapidly as possible”.
“We’re working very hard and we’re already talking about not just the variants that we have to make in laboratories, but also the clinical studies that we need to run,” he said in a briefing with the media this afternoon.
“We’re very much aiming to try and have something ready by the autumn — so this year.”
The UK has so far ordered 100m doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine, among a host of other jabs specially suited to the original coronavirus strain.
Professor Andy Pollard, researcher at Oxford University, which is collaborating on the project with Astrazeneca, said the new vaccine would only need small trials to ensure its efficacy.
“I think the actual work on designing a new vaccine is very, very quick because it’s essentially just switching out the genetic sequence for the spike protein, for the updated variants,” he said.
“And then there’s manufacturing to do and then a small scale study. So all of that can be completed in a very short period of time, and the autumn is really the timing for having new vaccines available for use rather than for having the clinical trials run.”
It comes after latest studies showed Covid strains with the new E484K mutation are potentially more resistant to vaccines currently available, although the jabs are still thought to provide good protection against illness and severe disease.
The South African, Brazilian and Kent variants of coronavirus are all thought to have mutated to include the E484K spike.
Moderna last week said its vaccine was partially effective against the South African variant, although the E484K mutation proved six times more resistant that the original strain. The company said it will also explore the creation of new vaccines for a batch of different Covid variants.
It comes after the UK’s GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) this morning announced it will collaborate with Germany’s CureVac on a new generation of Covid vaccines especially suited to tackling emerging mutations of the virus.
The two companies have inked a €150m (£133m) deal to develop new mRNA technology aimed at producing vaccines that would work on multiple variants of coronavirus that could be ready by 2022.
Data released last night showed the Astrazeneca vaccine may cut transmission of the virus by up to 67 per cent, in a major boost for the UK’s timeline for a return to normality.
The research also found that the jab was 76 per cent effective from 22 days until 90 days after a single standard dose.
Health secretary Matt Hancock praised the results this morning, saying the vaccine “will help us all to get out of this pandemic”.