On Monday, Moderna Inc (MRNA) announced that it intensifies its research and development efforts to optimize its vaccine against a recent mutation discovered in South Africa. Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine protects against the most contagious strains of coronavirus found in South Africa and the UK.
Particularly, the vaccine developed by a US pharmaceutical company produced antibody responses to mutations, including B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which were first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Moderna researched this topic in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. However, the medical community has not yet reviewed the study.
Researchers found that the vaccine produced significantly fewer antibodies against the South African strain. However, it was still above the threshold level expected to protect against the virus, the company said, adding that “the risk of a shorter period of immunity due to strain B.1.351 may be possible”.
CEO of Moderna Inc. Stephane Bancel said in a statement that “we are investigating developing an enhanced candidate vaccine to address the mutation initially discovered in the Republic of South Africa, with clinical testing to determine whether this was better against this mutation and whether it would be as effective against the next mutation.”
Scientists believe that vaccination programs designed for earlier strains should still work against these new ones, though they might not be as effective. Already there have been some early results suggesting the Pfizer vaccine protects against the new UK strain.
During the Moderna study, researchers examined blood samples from eight people who had received the Moderna vaccine’s recommended two doses. Research indicates that immunity to the vaccine identifies the new strains but has yet to be peer-reviewed. Immune system antibodies neutralize viruses by preventing them from entering cells.
Nevertheless, it seems that antibodies from the samples exposed to the new strain were strong enough to neutralize them, even if this effect did not occur for the South Africa variant as for the UK one. According to Moderna Inc (MRNA), this could protect the South Africa variant from vanishing even faster. The company is currently assessing the effectiveness of a third booster shot.