Novavax confirms efficacy of COVID-19 jab against UK variant

A clinical trial has found that Novavax’ COVID-19 vaccine is 86% protective against the UK variant of SARS-CoV-2, only slightly lower than the 96% efficacy seen with the original strain of the virus. 

The phase 3 trial – which takes Novavax’ NVX‑CoV2373 shot a step closer to approval – also found that it was 100% effective in preventing severe COVID-19. Novavax has said it intends to file for approval of the jab in the coming weeks, first in the UK and then in the US.

The results come as the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK is reported to be featuring prominently in a third wave of infections on the European continent. Last week, a study in the British Medical Journal also suggested it has a 30% to 100% higher mortality rate than the original strain, as well as being more easily transmitted.

The final results of the UK phase 3 trial confirmed the findings at an interim stage reported in January, when NVX‑CoV2373 was shown to be just over 89% effective.

The UK government has ordered 60 million doses of the protein subunit vaccine, and if approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) a large proportion of those supplies will be manufactured at Novavax’ UK factory in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees.

The MHRA began a rolling review of the vaccine in mid-January, and Novavax says additional data – including on manufacturing – will be submitted in the second quarter. A US trial is also ongoing and should read out in a few weeks.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said that approval of the vaccine would be “a significant boost to our vaccination programme,” with deliveries expected in the second half of the year.

Two vaccines are already being used in the UK – from Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca. A third from Moderna has been approved, but the first doses aren’t expected to start deliveries until next month.

The UK has now vaccinated more than 23 million people with at least one dose, and 1.4 million with two, and there are currently around 280,000 shots being administered every day. Orders have also been placed for shots made by French company Valneva and Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen.

NVX‑CoV2373 is based on the spike protein seen on the surface of the coronavirus, with an adjuvant that means smaller doses of the protein are needed in each dose. Like the AZ vaccine it can be stored at regular fridge temperatures, while the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots need to be stored in a deep freeze.

South African variant

Meanwhile, Novavax says a smaller South African study also found 55.4% protection against the South African B.1.351 variant on average.

It had 60% efficacy in HIV-negative patients in the study and 49% overall, just below the 50% threshold set for COVID-19 vaccines by the World Health Organization (WHO) early on in the pandemic.

Novavax chief executive Stan Erck told Bloomberg that Novavax will start trials in the summer of a new version of its vaccine designed specifically to tackle emerging variants, which may target two or three strains in each injection. Those may be available by the end of the year, he said.

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