Moderna on Wednesday announced that the COVID-19 vaccine it recently developed to address a concerning new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa is ready to be tested in humans in clinical trials.
Moderna in a news release said that it has shipped the first batch of doses of the new jab to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to commence a Phase 1 clinical trial “that will be led and funded by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).”
The new vaccine candidate, dubbed mRNA-1273.351, was created to better address the South African variant after the company’s existing vaccine — the second COVID-19 vaccine to see emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late last year — was found to have reduced efficacy against the mutation.
In a study published last week, the biotech giant said its existing COVID-19 jab was found to have a six-fold reduction in vaccine-induced antibodies against the B.1.351 variant. (Despite this reduction, however, “neutralizing titer levels with B.1.351 remain above levels that are expected to be protective,” the company said.)
Moderna said Wednesday it plans to study three variations of a booster. First, it will study the variant-specific jab, which will be given at a lower dose than its original vaccine, and, also like its original vaccine, will require an evaluation and emergency use approval from the FDA before it can be distributed to the public, should the results of the trial prove promising.
Secondly, Moderna said it plans to study a combination of the original vaccine and the variant-specific one in a single jab at 50 micrograms or lower. Lastly, it will study the effects of a third dose of its original vaccine, but at a lower dosage.
“Moderna is committed to making as many updates to our vaccine as necessary until the pandemic is under control,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “We hope to demonstrate that booster doses, if necessary, can be done at lower dose levels, which will allow us to provide many more doses to the global community in late 2021 and 2022 if necessary.”
The news of the booster comes just a month after Moderna said it was working on one. Like its first COVID-19 jab, the new vaccine candidate was also created using groundbreaking mRNA technology.
In addition to Moderna, other vaccine makers — including Pfizer, the creator of the first COVID-19 vaccine to see emergency approval in the U.S., as well as Johnson & Johnson — have said they are working on vaccines to better combat variants.