German company BioNTech said on Friday that a preliminary study shows that its vaccine counteracts a key mutation in coronavirus variants revealed in the UK and South Africa, which experts have said are more contagious than normal coronavirus strains.
Tests have shown that “antibodies from people who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine effectively neutralize SARS-CoV-2 with a key mutation that is also found in two highly transmissible strains,” says the German company of the vaccine it developed with it. American group Pfizer.
The B117 coronavirus, which originated in south-eastern Britain at the end of last year, has been shown to be significantly more contagious – between 40-70 percent – than common virus variants.
Pfizer / BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, which is being rolled out around the world, depends on the body’s production of a certain part of the virus – the nail protein – which the immune system then learns to kill.
Because the mutation in the British variant and another South African variant directly affects the nail protein of the virus, there had been fears that it would render the vaccine ineffective against the mutant versions.
But BioNTech said the research conducted by Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch “suggests that the major N501Y mutation, found in the new variants in the UK and South Africa, does not resist Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine-induced immune responses”.
However, the authors of the study itself said that the results were limited, as the mutated variant tested “does not include the whole set of nail mutations found on the rapidly spreading strains in Britain or South Africa.”
The research has not yet been reviewed by colleagues, but experts expressed cautious optimism about the results.
“This is good news, mainly because it’s not bad news,” said Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“Had the opposite result been established, that the vaccine did not appear to have an effect on the variation of the virus studied, it would have been bad and very worrying.”
Last month, German developer BioNTech said it had the technology to produce a new vaccine against new mutated Sars-CoV-2 strains in as little as six weeks.
Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said there was reason for optimism that mRNA vaccines could prove effective against many mutated variants.
“There will be other new mutants and we will need to monitor the situation closely by repeating this type of study on new variants as they appear,” she said.
“There is a limit to the number of mutations that the virus can accumulate and still bind to the (human cell) receptor.”
The EU on Friday said it had reached an agreement to double its supply of Pfizer / BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a total of 600 million doses.