Coronavirus: Moderna seeks to boost vaccine immunity to virus variants

Keith A. Reynolds

The drug maker says their vaccine is still effective against emerging COVID-19 variants, but it still wants to test.

Drug maker Moderna says it is launching a clinical program to ensure its COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine is effective against emerging strains of the virus.

According to a news release, the company found in in vitro neutralization studies that the immune systems of those who’ve already been dosed with the company’s vaccine showed activity against the emerging strains of COVID-19. B.1.1.7 and B.1.351. The research found no significant impact on neutralizing titers against B.1.1.7, first identified in the U.K, compared to prior variants, but there was a six-fold reduction in neutralizing titers against B.1.351, first identified in South Africa.

Even with the reduction, the neutralizing titer levels against B.1.351 are above levels expected to be protective, the release says.

While Moderna expects the vaccine to protect against emerging strains of the disease, out of an abundance of caution it will test an additional booster dose of the vaccine to study whether it would further increase neutralizing titers against emerging variants beyond that provided by the existing dosage. The company is also advancing a variant booster candidate against B.1.351 into preclinical studies and a phase one study in the U.S., the release says.

“As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves,” Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, says in the release. “We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants. Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titers against this and potentially future variants.”