NEW YORK (Reuters) – Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine appear to be working against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new coronavirus variants found in the United Kingdom and South Africa, according to a laboratory study by the US drugmaker.
A still unexplored study by Pfizer and scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch shows that the vaccine is effective in neutralizing the virus with the so-called N501
The mutation may be responsible for greater transmission and there were fears that it could also cause the virus to escape the neutralization of antibodies caused by the vaccine, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top virus vaccine scientists.
The test was performed on blood taken from people who had received the vaccine. His findings are limited because he does not address the full range of mutations found in any of the new variants of the rapidly spreading virus.
Dormitzer said it was encouraging that the vaccine appeared to be effective against the mutation, as well as 15 other mutations the company had previously tested against.
“So now we’ve tested 16 different mutations and none of them have had a significant effect. That’s good news, “he said. “That doesn’t mean the 17th won’t.”
Dormitzer notes that another mutation found in the South African variant, called the E484K mutation, is also troubling.
Researchers plan to conduct similar tests to see if the vaccine is effective against other mutations found in the UK and South Africa variants, and hope to have more data within weeks.
Researchers have expressed concern that the vaccines being introduced may not be able to protect against new options, especially those that have emerged in South Africa.
Simon Clark, an associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading, said this week that while the two options have some common features, the one in South Africa “has a number of additional mutations” that involve more extensive changes in spike protein.
The Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine and that of Moderna Inc, which use synthetic RNA technology, can be changed quickly to deal with new mutations in the virus, if necessary. Scientists suggest that the changes can be made in just six weeks.
Report by Michael Herman; Edited by Bill Bercrot and Edwina Gibbs