The race for a next-generation COVID-19 vaccine is heating up, with two United Kingdom drugs giants and their partners entering the fray to develop new jabs to tackle emerging variants of the disease.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Germany’s CureVac announced a new $180m collaboration to jointly develop next-generation messenger RNA vaccines (mRNA) to address multiple variants of COVID-19 in one vaccine.
Separately, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford announced they are also developing next-generation jabs that they expect to roll out as early as this fall.
Concerns are mounting that new, potentially more infectious variants of COVID-19 could make the current round of approved vaccines and other first-generation candidates in the pipeline less effective.
A new strain of the disease believed to be more contagious was first identified in the UK, while a new variant originating in South Africa is also sparking concerns.
GSK’s new jabs will build on CureVac’s first-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which is currently in late-stage clinical trials.
“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first generation COVID-19 vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,” the companies said in a statement. “These next generation COVID-19 vaccines may either be used to protect people who have not been vaccinated before, or to serve as boosters in the event that COVID-19 immunity gained from an initial vaccination reduces over time.”
Work on the new jabs will “begin immediately” said the companies, with the aim of introducing the new vaccine next year, subject to regulatory approval.
GSK will also support the manufacture of CureVac’s first-generation COVID-19 vaccine.
AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford said during a press briefing on Wednesday that they would aim to produce next-generation COVID-19 vaccines later this year.
AstraZeneca research chief Mene Pangolas told reporters, “We’re very much aiming to try and have something ready by the autumn, so this year,” adding that the timeline included labour work and clinical trials to test the new jabs.
Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told reporters that AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford are confident the new vaccine will work against a more infectious variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the UK but has since spread to other parts of the globe.
United States pharmaceutical company Moderna, whose mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 has been approved for use in many countries, said in January that its jab protects against two known mutations of the disease and that it is developing a booster shot to address the new South African variant.
US drugs giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine that has been given the green light across the globe. They have also said they are working on new vaccines to tackle emerging variants.