Moderna and Pfizer ready updated COVID-19 boosters to combat BA.2.86 and other emerging variants

[Image courtesy of Production Perig/Adobe Stock]

Against the backdrop of a nearly 16% spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations in late August, according to CDC data, federal authorities are gearing up to greenlight updated boosters. Moderna announced that its latest COVID vaccine is effective against this new strain. Meanwhile, Pfizer revealed positive preclinical data for its vaccine, developed in collaboration with BioNTech.

In late August, Novavax also announced that its updated protein-based XBB COVID vaccine candidate retained neutralizing antibody responses to several emerging subvariants, including EG.5.1 and XBB.1.16.6. Unlike the mRNA-based boosters from Pfizer and Moderna, Novavax’s COVID vaccine would be the sole protein-based non-mRNA vaccine option available for the upcoming fall season.

The following visualization, based on CDC data, highlights the top SARS-CoV-2 variants for August and Sept…

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WHO concludes that updated COVID-19 vaccines may be needed

When confronting an onslaught of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, COVID-19 vaccine makers such as Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Moderna (NSDQ:MRNA) have tested tweaked versions of their vaccines but ultimately decided that they were unnecessary.

Signs are growing that vaccines developed based on the original strain of the novel coronavirus will struggle to offer durable protection against the omicron variant.

A World Health Organization (WHO) technical advisory group concluded that current COVID-19 vaccines might require modification but acknowledged that more research is needed.

In an interim statement, the independent group also concluded that “a vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable.”

The body also urged that governments worldwide ramp up the distribution of current COVID-19 vaccines.

The WHO advisory panel also predicted there were multiple pathways for drug…

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J&J COVID-19 vaccine protects against Delta variant

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) has announced that a single shot of its COVID-19 vaccine offers significant protection against the transmissible Delta variant. The vaccine also provides an immune response lasting at least eight months.

The announcement coincides with the company filing two preprint studies to bioRxiv. The first analyzes blood samples from eight patients in the company’s Phase 3 ENSEMBLE study, which it used to win emergency use authorization in the U.S. That study concluded that a single dose of the vaccine led to a higher neutralizing antibody activity against the Delta variant than the Beta variant (B.1.351) that first emerged in South Africa.

Rival Moderna is developing a vaccine known as mRNA-1273.351 based on the Beta variant.

J&J also announced that its vaccine elicited a robust immune response to other common SARS-CoV-2 variants.

The company also said that its vaccine led to a strong neutralizing antibody response that…

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HHS halts distribution of Lilly’s bamlanivimab/etesevimab antibody cocktail

U.S. government authorities have decided to immediately pause the distribution of Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab and etesevimab over concerns that the monoclonal antibody cocktail is ineffective against some SARS-CoV-2 variants.

CDC recently concluded that the Gamma variant (P.1) and the Beta variant (B.1.351) make up 11% of COVID-19 infections. They are also continuing to become more dominant, as is the Delta variant (B.1.617.2). CDC has determined that the Delta variant is possibly less responsive to some monoclonal antibody treatments.

The Beta and Gamma variants are significantly less responsive to bamlanivimab and etesevimab than other viral lineages.

Bamlanivimab and etesevimab image courtesy of Lilly.

FDA is recommending Regeneron’s REGEN-COV and GSK’s sotrovimab as more robust antibody therapies.

In related news, FDA recently granted emergency use authorization to tocilizumab, a monoc…

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