Covid-19 roundup: Ugur Sahin says new shots likely needed for Omicron; UK fully approves Vir/GlaxoSmithKline antibody
Despite Ugur Sahin’s calls for calm over the Omicron variant — making a much more measured appeal than Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel — the BioNTech chief is already predicting the potential need for new Covid-19 vaccines.
In comments made at a conference hosted Friday morning by Reuters, Sahin said that even though vaccinated individuals would likely still be protected from severe disease, Omicron could see greater numbers of breakthrough infections than other variants. The mutations mean Covid shots will probably become necessary every year, similar to the flu.
“I believe in principle at a certain time point we will need a new vaccine against this new variant. The question is how urgent it needs to be available,” Sahin said at the conference, which was also reported on by Reuters.
He added that even though emerging data signal Omicron is highly infectious, the question still remains whether or not it causes severe disease at a higher rate.
“It is not clear whether this variant produces more severe disease,” Sahin said.
Sahin’s Friday comments come a couple of days after he said vaccine-induced T cell responses would almost certainly remain strong against Omicron, telling people “Don’t freak out” just yet over the variant. In comments to the Wall Street Journal, the CEO said those who received their shots — especially those that got a booster — would still be protected against hospitalization and death.
The remarks contrasted sharply with Bancel, who one day prior had said,“This is not going to be good” in an interview with the Financial Times. Bancel predicted a significant drop in vaccine effectiveness, but stressed he didn’t know how steep the drop might be.
UK regulators fully approve Vir/GlaxoSmithKline antibody treatment
As the UK continues trying to chart a path through a significant Covid-19 surge, the country’s regulator fully approved another tool to fight the virus.
The MHRA gave a full OK to the Vir/GlaxoSmithKline monoclonal antibody on Friday, becoming the second mAb treatment to get an approval in the country for use in mild-to-moderate cases where the patient is at risk to develop severe Covid-19. The UK had previously approved the monoclonal antibody developed by Roche and Regeneron.
“This is yet another therapeutic that has been shown to be effective at protecting those most vulnerable to COVID-19, and signals another significant step forward in our fight against this devastating disease,” MHRA chief June Raine said of the Vir/GSK treatment in a statement.
Regulators cited a study showing a single treatment of the antibody reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 79% in patients vulnerable to severe Covid-19. The treatment had previously won a conditional authorization in individuals with mild or moderate cases and at least one comorbidity.
The agency also noted it’s not yet known whether the Omicron variant will have any impact on the drug’s effectiveness. Earlier this week, however, a GSK spokesperson told Endpoints News it’s optimistic the antibody will hold up against the new mutation.
“Based on the sequence of the Omicron variant, we believe sotrovimab is likely to maintain activity and potency against this variant, and we are working to confirm this in the lab as a matter of urgency,” the spokesperson said, using the treatment’s chemical name.
Also on Friday, the MHRA renewed its authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, exactly one year to the day after it became the first agency to allow the shot’s use.