Experimental Moderna vaccine may ‘neutralise’ coronavirus

Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine produced antibodies that could ‘neutralize’ the new coronavirus in patients in a small early stage clinical trial, the company announced Monday, sending its shares up 25 percent. 

The levels of the antibodies were similar to those in blood samples of people who have recovered from COVID-19, early results from the study conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed.

Participants were given three different doses of the vaccine and Moderna said it saw dose-dependent increase in immunogenicity, the ability to provoke an immune response in the body.

Moderna noted that the early trial is intended to determine the safety and side effects of the vaccine and, although the early results are promising, it’s too soon to say whether the shot candidate can actually block the virus. 

The experimental vaccine that Moderna began developing in January has shown promise in human trials after early data showed it produced ‘neutralizing’ antibodies (file) 

Shares for Moderna shot up by 25 percent on the heels of the company’s Monday announcement

The vaccine, mRNA-1273, was also found to be generally safe and well tolerated in the early-stage study, the drug developer said.

Its Monday announcement took Moderna’s share prices up to $79.93.

Encouraging movements in the US and global markets also followed the promising early trial results.  

Within the first few minutes of the bell, the S&P 500 was up 2.5 percent, and similar upticks were seen in European markets, with London’s FTSE up 2.4 percent, Frankfurt’s DAX rising 2.9 percent and France’s CAC 40 up by  2.2 percent. 

Moderna’s announcement followed an optimistic pronouncement from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who said in a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday that the economy stands a chance to bounce back ‘substantially’ if coronavirus can be contained. 

Moderna is working closely with the NIH to develop its vaccine and had a leg up because it created a platform for a SARS vaccine in 2003 

Coupled with the positive early data from Moderna’s trial, the boost to market confidence reached around the world, with share price rises seen in Shanghai, Tokyo, India, South Korea and Australia. 

Moderna’s announcement was also a boon to President Trump’s recently appointed vaccine czar, Dr Moncef Slaoui. 

Dr Slaoui resigned from his seat on Moderna’s board of directors in order to accept the unpaid government appointment earlier this month. 

However, he owns 155,438 shares in the company – the most recent of which were purchased in late-April. 

With the Monday boost to Moderna’s share prices, Dr Slaoui’s shares are worth $11.4 million. 

Dr Moncef Slaoui (right) vacated his seat on Moderna’s board of directors to accept an appointment as the US’s vaccine czar from President Trump’s (left).  Dr Slaoui still holds more than 155,000 shares in Moderna stock 

The company was also granted substantial funding from the US government. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) agreed to give Moderna up to $483 million to fund its coronavirus vaccine research on April 16. 

Moderna has been among the leaders in global efforts to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus and last week, won the US health agency’s ‘fast track’ label to speed up the regulatory review. 

It is looking to begin late-stage trials in July. 

The company has been racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 285,000 people globally. It expects to start a late-stage study of the vaccine in early summer.

It’s up against competitors like Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, which yesterday received more funding than any other vaccine maker from the epidemic preparedness group CEPI.

However, Moderna had a leg up in the race to create a coronavirus vaccine.

Along with its NIH and Vaccine Research Center partners, Moderna started developing a vaccine against SARS amid the 2003 outbreak of that virus, the closest cousin to the one that causes COVID-19.  

It was quick to start its phase 1 trial, dosing the first participant on March 16, and hopes now to further expedite its trial process with the FDA’s fast-track designation. 

There are no approved treatments or vaccines for the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, though some drugs are being used on patients under an emergency-use authorization.

The agency’s fast track status is designed to expedite the review of treatments and vaccines meant for serious conditions. 

A vaccine or treatment that gets the status is eligible for more frequent meetings with the FDA.

‘Fast Track designation underscores the urgent need for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus,’ said Dr Tal Zaks, Chief Medical Officer at Moderna. 

Even as parts of the US begin to reopen, experts continue to warn that we really won’t be free of coronavirus until there is a vaccine against it.

Companies like Moderna as well as research institutions sprung quickly into action to design such vaccines.

Moderna, using the platform it had created to develop a SARS vaccine, was able to create a candidate vaccine in January.

By February, it shipped its vaccine to the US government.

Now, there are two Phase 1 trials of the shot underway, and on May 6, Moderna’s stocks shot up after the FDA greenlit its Phase 2 study.

A Phase 3 trial is set to start late this spring or early this summer.

Fast-track status will help clear some of the red-tape that might protract the timeline between promising results from these trials to production and distribution of the vaccine.

Although the NIH has poured significant resources into Moderna’s shot, Dr Fauci noted during a Senate panel hearing on Tuesday that its important that Moderna not have a vaccine monopoly.

He urged the US to proverbially take ‘multiple shots on goal,’ in terms of developing a vaccine.

‘This is important because it’s good for global availability if we have more than one successful candidate,’ said Dr Fauci last week.

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