An updated version of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine generates a strong immune response against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, the company has announced.
The bivalent version of the mRNA vaccine has been designed to target both the original and Omicron strains.
In a statement, Moderna said that a month after giving the updated jab to previously vaccinated and boosted participants, a 50µg booster dose produced ‘potent neutralising antibody responses’ against the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 in all participants regardless of prior infection.puls
The response was weaker against BA.4 and BA.5 than tests had shown against the BA.1 Omicron variant it had been produced to target, but the data suggests the updated vaccine could generate protection against Omicron variants in general.
Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna said they would be looking to seek approval for the vaccine for autumn boosters.
‘We will submit these data to regulators urgently and are preparing to supply our next generation bivalent booster starting in August, ahead of a potential rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections due to Omicron subvariants in the early fall.’
NHS England has just set out initial plans for an autumn booster campaign after recommendations in May from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that vaccines should be offered for some at risk groups and frontline healthcare workers.
Professor Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, said the announcement from Moderna was very timely given the early indications of a possible new wave of Covid.
‘The data suggest that the bivalent booster might confer greater protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron strains than readministering the original vaccine to increase protection across the population.
‘Although the information is based on antibody levels, the companies comment that similar levels of antibody protected against clinical illness caused by other strains is the first suggestion of an emerging “immune correlate” of protection, although it is hoped that this ongoing study is also assessing rates of clinical illness as well as antibody responses.’
She added that earlier data suggested the new mixed vaccine should be well tolerated but it would be helpful to see the full publication of data.
‘As we head towards the autumn with Omicron variants dominating the Covid infection landscape, it certainly makes sense to consider use of this new bivalent vaccine, if available, for the UK autumn Covid booster campaign.’
It comes as the US biotech company announced it would build the UK’s first research and manufacturing centre for mRNA vaccines.
Construction is expected to start later this year, the Government said ensuring the ability to ramp up production rapidly in the event of a future pandemics.
Health and social sare Secretary Sajid Javid said the centre would have the potential to unlock the next generation of cutting-edge vaccines to fight diseases such as Covid-19, seasonal flu and RSV.
‘mRNA is a truly transformational technology and we have seen its life-saving power during the pandemic. Thanks to this new deal, NHS patients will benefit from scientific breakthroughs and the new state-of-the-art manufacturing centre will boost our ability to respond to the next pandemic by ensuring we’re able to produce vaccines rapidly on our own shores.’