Covid-19 roundup: Higher antibody counts seen in spaced-out vaccine intervals — study; Roche CEO compares IP waiver to East German 'experiments'
Near the outset of the UK’s vaccination campaign, the British government outlined plans to space out shots in larger intervals in order to get more people their first shot. Now, a study has come out saying the approach can drive a higher antibody response — at least in older populations.
In a study with 175 people older than 80, the antibody response was 3.5 times higher in individuals who received their second Pfizer/BioNTech shot 12 weeks after their first, compared to those who followed the typical three-week period. Antibody levels were measured about two to three weeks after the follow-up jabs.
The study was conducted by the University of Birmingham in the UK and jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research. It has been published as a preprint and has yet to be peer-reviewed.
“Many questions remain regarding [vaccines’] optimal delivery for provision of effective and sustained immunity,” Helen Parry, NIHR lecturer at Birmingham, said in a statement. “This is the first time antibody and cellular responses have been studied when the second vaccine is given after an extended interval.”
To conduct the study, researchers took blood samples from participants after their first vaccine and then again two to three weeks after their second vaccine. Among the group, 99 people followed the normal three-week course for the shot, and 73 got their second dose at 12 weeks.
After the second vaccine, the average concentration of antibodies was 4,030 U/ml in the extended interval group compared to 1,138 U/ml in the three-week group.
Researchers also looked at T cell immune responses in the participants, where numbers looked different, however. In individuals following the normal vaccine course, 60% had a confirmed T cell response two to three weeks after their second shot. This number fell to 15% about eight or nine weeks later.
In participants in the extended interval group, only 8% showed a T cell response at five to six weeks after their first shot, but the figure rose to 31% in the two to three weeks after their second shot. The authors cautioned that more studies needed to be conducted in T cell responses in order to draw any conclusions.
The Birmingham study comes as the UK continues to see relatively few new Covid-19 cases following one of the more aggressive vaccination campaigns in Europe. According to Public Health England, daily average cases remain much lower than the huge spike from this past winter, but higher than the average from last summer.
Roche CEO compares vaccine waiver to East German ‘experiments’
Roche CEO Severin Schwan ratcheted up the rhetoric against the Biden administration’s move to waive Covid-19 vaccine IP, comparing a potential waiver to the nationalization seen under Soviet-controlled East Germany.
Joining in on the pharma industry’s criticism of the waiver, Schwan said such a move would be “counterproductive,” according to the Financial Times. Though proponents of the waiver say it would boost vaccine production in low- and middle-income nations, Schwan and the industry counter that it will limit the availability of raw materials needed to make the shots.
Schwan argued to FT that the waiver would be a “catastrophe” akin to the nationalized drug industry seen in East Germany.
“We had enough experiments in the 20th century nationalizing the industry and we know what came out of that,” he told the paper. He later added, “This will be harmful for my children and grandchildren when I’m not CEO anymore.”
Roche does not produce Covid-19 vaccines and Schwan did not specify what experiments he was referring to. But investigations by the German magazine Der Spiegel in 2012 and 2013 revealed that several big-name Western drugmakers — including Roche — paid East German hospitals to use patients as “unwitting guinea pigs” in under-the-table clinical trials.
The Soviet-controlled bloc also reportedly ran a mass-doping scheme for Olympic athletes, forcing competitors to take anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. More than 150 former athletes sued an East German drugmaker in the 2000s, with the company chipping in to a government-backed settlement fund, according to reports from the time.
Despite its lack of vaccine production, Roche does contribute its Actemra drug as part of a collaboration with Regeneron for a monoclonal antibody cocktail. The original waiver proposal included other Covid-19-related products.
Britain rethinks antibody deal with AstraZeneca
The UK government is reportedly rethinking plans to purchase 1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 antibody therapy currently under development.
Part of the reason for the shift has to do with Britain’s response to the pandemic, unnamed officials told Bloomberg News. The UK still has not officially placed any orders and is wondering if the antibody therapies will be needed in the country at all.
Alok Sharma, the UK’s former business secretary, said in November that the country had procured doses pending trial results, but these were non-binding deals. The US, on the other hand, increased its order for the treatment by 500,000 doses in March, bringing their potential supply to 700,000.
AstraZeneca is expected to report new trial results for the therapy by the end of June, looking at the treatment’s function as a prophylactic among those who have been exposed to Covid-19. It’s one of five ongoing late-stage trials for the therapy, which combines two antibodies to possibly prevent and treat Covid-19 in mild, moderate and severe/hospitalized cases.
Several companies have been developing antibody treatments for Covid-19, including Regeneron, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline and Vir. But in the UK, more than half of the population has already received its first vaccine dose.
Samsung Biologics denies Moderna manufacturing deal
A Korean newspaper reported that the biotech arm of Samsung and Moderna had agreed to produce its Covid-19 vaccine at a Songdo plant, and cited unnamed sources. But Samsung has said that no decision has been reached yet, Reuters reports.
Samsung’s shares jumped up as much as 8.7% today, to $833.18 after the report from the Chosun Ilbo. The company also denied reports that it had struck a deal with Pfizer to manufacture its vaccine, co-developed with German BioNTech.
Moderna’s jab hasn’t been approved in South Korea, but it Thursday it was recommended for emergency use approval after safety and efficacy trials in the US. If the deal is approved, it would be Moderna’s first production of the vaccine in Asia. Earlier this week, BioNTech struck a deal with Singapore to produce a wide range of mRNA vaccines and therapeutics.
Moderna’s announced a string of manufacturing expansions in the last 2 weeks, after an announcement that it would produce up to 3 billion doses in 2022. Thursday, the company announced a deal with the Australian government that would provide 25 million doses, including some of a booster that will protect against variants of the virus, to the country in which not many of its residents are vaccinated. It’s also announced a 50% increase in production at its Massachusetts site, and doubled production in Switzerland and Spain at sites run by Lonza and Rovi,
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