UK-based drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline is developing a next-gen coronavirus vaccine to target the new, more virulent variants.
Partnering with German biotech company CureVac, the £130 million deal will target several variants of the virus in a single jab.
Research and production of the vaccine has only just started, so the companies don’t expect to have the vaccine ready until 2022.
Scientists and vaccine researchers have been concerned about the ability for new coronavirus variants to bypass current vaccines, rendering them ineffective.
Whether a vaccine will work on a new variant depends on the type of vaccine, and type of virus variant.
For instance, Pfizer have tested their mRNA vaccine on the South African variant in the lab, and found the virus mutation caused little difference.
But some UK variants appear to have ‘vaccine evading’ mutations, which might reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine.
It’s a race against time between the vaccine manufacturers and the coronavirus – the more people that the virus infects, the more chance it has to replicate and eventually mutate in a way that will thwart current vaccines.
Starting work on vaccines that can tackle new variants now will ensure that the world doesn’t reach a point in years to come where current vaccines are ineffective.
GlaxoSmithKline, which holds a stake in CureVac, is also helping manufacture up to 100 million doses of CureVac’s first generation vaccine this year.
The British company hasn’t had much luck with previous coronavirus vaccines – its partnership with French pharma giant Sanofi to create a COVID-19 vaccine was delayed until the end of this year.
But the collaboration with German CureVac aims to be proactive, offering both ‘broader protection’ against a variety of different variants and to allow for a faster response when those variants arise in the future.
‘The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first generation COVID-19 vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,’ the statement said.
‘These next generation COVID-19 vaccines may either be used to protect people who have not been vaccinated before, or to serve as boosters in the event that COVID-19 immunity gained from an initial vaccination reduces over time.’
The statement also lauded the ‘potential for a multi-valent approach to address multiple emerging variants in one vaccine’
GSK chief executive Dame Emma Walmsley said: ‘We believe that next generation vaccines will be crucial in the continued fight against COVID-19.
‘This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together, we will combine our scientific expertise… to advance and accelerate the development of new COVID-19 vaccine candidates.’