Novavax offers first hopeful vaccine test data with testing against COVID variants

Washington The American biotechnology company Novavax said on Thursday that its two-shot COVID-19 vaccine showed a total effect of 89.3% in a larger clinical phase 3 study in the UK and remained very effective against a variant first identified there. However, the positive news was somewhat offset by other results which showed that it offered less protection against a highly transmissible variant of coronavirus first identified in South Africa.

Like the British tribe, the variant first found in South Africa is now spreading rapidly throughout the world, and the first cases have been confirmed in the United States. In recent weeks, there have been concerns that the vaccines developed around the world could be less effective, especially against the South African variant, and while the Novavax test results seem to confirm a certain level of resistance, both the company and an external health expert were optimistic. on the level of protection against both the new strains.

“NVX-CoV2373 has the potential to play an important role in resolving this global public health crisis,” said Stanley Erck, President and CEO of the company, with Novavax’s name for the vaccine. “We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, staff, investigators and regulators around the world to make the vaccine available as soon as possible.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that the results were “good news”, adding that the UK Medicines Agency would now assess the vaccine for potential approval.

The vaccine was one of six candidates backed by a US government project formerly known as Operation Warp Speed, which gave the Maryland-based company $ 1.75 billion. It is also being tested in a trial in the United States and Mexico, which has so far recruited about 16,000 out of 30,000 participants.

Unlike the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, which deliver the genetic instructions that make human cells create a key protein in the virus, the Novavax shot injects the proteins directly into the body to elicit an immune response.

“Pretty good” versus South African tribe

The British trial involved 15,000 people aged 18 to 84, including 27% who were over 65 years old. The first interim analysis was based on 62 cases of confirmed COVID-19 among the participants, of which 56 cases were observed in the placebo group versus six cases among people who received the vaccine.

The company’s preliminary analysis showed that the variant first identified in the UK, called B.1.1.7, was detected in more than 50% of the confirmed cases. Novavax said the results showed that their vaccine was 95.6% effective against the original COVID-19 strain and 85.6% against the British variant.

But the level of protection was lower in a small central study in South Africa. The study registered more than 4,400 patients from September to mid-January, during which time the B.1.351 variant, which contains critical mutations along the virus’ nail protein, spread rapidly through the country.

The overall effect was 49.4% in this study, but the figure rose to 60% among the 94% of participants who were HIV-negative.

Worryingly, Novavax said that about a third of the participants in the South Africa study had previously been infected with the original form of the virus, while the subsequent infections during the study were largely from the variant.


Worries about South African COVID variant

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The results come just days after South African researchers told CBS News that the new tribe in the country appeared very resistant to antibodies in blood samples from people infected with the original virus strain, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China in late 2019. That research left the researchers concerned that previous infection could give little immunity to the new South African variant and possible impact on the effect of the vaccines.

However, Amesh Adalja, a physician and senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told AFP that it was important to keep the diminished effect in perspective, and the vaccine was still a success.

“Sixty percent against the variant is still pretty good,” he said. “It is clear that the Novavax vaccine prevented serious illness, which in the end is really what matters most.”

Professor Shabir Madhi, who runs the South African trials, said on Thursday night that the Novavax results were something “he did not dream of” when he saw how poorly the natural immunity from the first wave of COVID infections, with the original strain, went against the variant. in South Africa.

Novavax CEO Erck called the preliminary effects of the South Africa trial “beyond human expectations.”

The studies in the United Kingdom and South Africa were the first to assess the performance of a COVID-19 vaccine against both the United Kingdom and South Africa variants in real-world experiments.

Modern has previously said that its the vaccine “should” remain effective against both the new, highly infectious variants, but the study it cited was based on laboratory research, not real world tests against human infection.

Pfizer has too reported laboratory results which suggests that its vaccine will prove effective against the British variant, but it has not yet revealed any data for testing against the strain found in South Africa.

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