(Reuters) – The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has sparked fears that existing COVID-19 vaccines and treatment could be less effective against it.
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said early epidemiological data suggested Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death.
Here’s what companies that make COVID-19 vaccines and drugs have said:
CEO Stéphane Bancel has warned that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant.
The company has said a new vaccine tailored for Omicron should be available as soon as March.
“We think it’s likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron,” said BioNTech CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin.
Lab tests are underway to analyze if antibodies found in the blood of people inoculated with Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine work against Omicron.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON
J&J said it was testing blood serum from participants in various trials to look for neutralizing activity against the Omicron variant. It was also pursuing an Omicron-specific vaccine and would progress it as needed.
The company, however, remains confident in the immune responses generated by its shot against other variants to date in clinical studies, said Mathai Mammen, global head of J&J arm Janssen Research & Development.
ASTRAZENECA PLC-UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
AstraZeneca said it was examining the impact of Omicron on its vaccine, which is developed with Oxford University, and its antibody cocktail, adding it was hopeful its combination drug would retain efficacy.
REGENERON PHARMACEUTICALS INC
Its COVID-19 antibody drug could be less effective against Omicron, Regeneron said.
Based on its study of Omicron’s individual mutations, “there may be reduced neutralization activity of both vaccine-induced and monoclonal antibody conveyed immunity”, Regeneron said, adding that the analysis included its COVID-19 antibody cocktail, REGEN-COV.
ELI LILLY AND CO
The company, which also makes monoclonal antibody treatment, is working to understand the neutralization activity of its therapies on Omicron, the company told Reuters in an e-mailed statement.
MERCK & Co Inc
Merck’s experimental COVID-19 drug, molnupiravir, which it is co-developing with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, should have similar activity against any new coronavirus variant, a company executive said.
May begin commercial manufacturing of a COVID-19 vaccine tailored for the Omicron coronavirus variant in January next year, while it tests whether or not its current vaccine works against the variant.
GILEAD SCIENCES INC
Gilead has said it believes its drug – Veklury or remdesivir – will continue to be active against the Omicron variant. It plans to conduct laboratory tests to confirm its analysis.
Laboratory analysis of the COVID-19 antibody therapy GlaxoSmithKline is developing with U.S. partner Vir Biotechnology has indicated the drug is effective against the new Omicron variant, the British drugmaker said.
(Compilation by Manas Mishra, Oishee Majumdar and Leroy Leo in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)