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Moderna is engaged on booster photographs for South African varieties

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 company’s researchers said 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 The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.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 strain, but the antibodies remained above levels expected to protect against the virus, company B.1,351 strains said.

“Out of caution and taking advantage of the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are bringing a new 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.” these and possibly future variants, “said Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a statement.

Moderna shares rose more than 10% in morning 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. He added that the vaccine’s ultimate goal is to prevent serious infections and keep people out of the hospital.

“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 emerges that is resistant 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 at protecting against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus. Some early results published on the bioRxiv preprint server indicate that the South African variant can evade the antibodies of some coronavirus treatments.

The news also comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month that the British variant could become the dominant strain in the US by March. “It is very likely that many variants will develop simultaneously worldwide,” said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the CDC, in an email to CNBC.

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 Moderna Covid’s vaccine is more than 94% effective at preventing, safe and appears to fight off serious illnesses. 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, who, as you know, 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 lag behind this virus,” he said, adding that the coronavirus will “continue to mutate”.

– CNBC’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.

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