The fight against Covid-19 got a big boost when US biotech group Moderna said its vaccine had more than 94.5 per cent efficacy in clinical trials — a week after another set of positive results for a rival coronavirus jab.
The Moderna finding, which follows the successful clinical trials of a vaccine from Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, has raised hopes that the world can turn the corner in the management of the pandemic.
Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive, said the moment was “pivotal” and “has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent Covid-19 disease, including severe disease”.
Moderna said it expected the vaccine could be shipped and stored for up to six months at minus 20C, and then remain stable once thawed for 30 days if refrigerated at between 2C and 8C. In contrast, the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine must be transported at minus 75C and can survive in a normal fridge for only five days, making it potentially more complicated to distribute.
Shares in Moderna rose almost 9 per cent to $97 in lunchtime trading in New York, and S&P futures gained 1.2 per cent. Shares in Switzerland’s Lonza, which has a strategic deal with Moderna, added 2 per cent from earlier lows.
Out of 30,000 participants in the clinical trials, 95 had been identified with confirmed cases of Covid-19, the company said. Among those infected, only five people had received the two-dose vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, while 90 had received a placebo.
Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, described the results as a “home run” for the company’s mRNA technology, which sends genetic code into a cell to teach the body to make antibodies to the virus. “You have an independent validation that this technology time and again can actually prevent disease,” he told the Financial Times.
Moderna said it intended to submit the vaccine for approval by the US Food and Drug Administration “in the coming weeks”, raising the prospect of at least two emergency-approved vaccines before the end of the year.
The 95 Covid-19 cases in the trial included older adults and 20 participants identifying as being from diverse communities, Moderna said. The interim analysis, the company noted, “suggests a broadly consistent safety and efficacy profile across all evaluated subgroups”.
Alex Azar, head of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said the results were “an incredible tribute to American scientists and innovators, and one more reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel”.
The US government’s flagship vaccine programme, Operation Warp Speed, had provided about $2bn to Moderna in funding and operational support, he added.
Trudie Lang, from Oxford university’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, said it was “very good news indeed to see another vaccine coming through with similar efficacy results as were reported last week from Pfizer”.
Prof Lang added that the early results suggested different age groups and diverse communities were represented in the protected group. “This is really encouraging and it further demonstrates that a vaccine for Covid is a real probability and that having more than one supplier should help assure better and more equitable global availability.”
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Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, noted that the trial included “many high-risk or elderly” people. “This gives us confidence that the results are relevant in the people who are most at risk of Covid-19 and in most need of the vaccines,” he added.
The European Medicines Agency separately on Monday said it had begun a rolling, or accelerated, review of the vaccine. The UK’s sister agency, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, is also conducting a rolling review of the shot. The US, Canada and Japan have all pre-booked orders, while the UK on Monday said it had secured the purchase of 5m doses.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the regional bloc hoped to finalise a contract with Moderna “soon”.