LONDON: Novavax, a vaccine undergoing trials for effectiveness against the novel coronavirus, has become the first immune dose to definitively confirm protection against the new variant of the deadly virus which was detected in the UK late last year.
A late-stage clinical trial involving over 15,000 people in the UK found that the vaccine produced by American firm Novavax is 89.3 per cent effective in preventing coronavirus and offered 85.6 per cent protection against the new British strain of COVID-19, which is up to 70 per cent more transmissible.
A smaller, separate trial also showed that it was about 60 per cent effective against the South African variant, despite concerns that this strain may not respond to vaccines.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the findings as “good news” and confirmed that the UK will now go ahead with the assessment and approval process for the jabs by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Once cleared for public use, Novavax will become the fourth vaccine to be deployed in the UK in the coming weeks, joining the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna jabs.
“Our medicines regulator will now assess the vaccine, which will be made in Teesside (north-east England). If approved, we have 60 million doses on order,” said Johnson.
The study was conducted in partnership with the UK government’s Vaccines Taskforce and assessed efficacy during a period with high transmission and with a new UK variant strain of the virus emerging and circulating widely.
"This is positive news and, if approved by the medicines regulator, the Novavax vaccine will be a significant boost to our vaccination programme and another weapon in our arsenal to beat this awful virus," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"Having taken part in Novavax's vaccine trial myself, I am particularly thrilled to see such positive results," added Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
The Novavax vaccine also requires two doses, like the other vaccines being administered to the most vulnerable groups.
“NVX-CoV2373 is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against COVID-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants,” said Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer, Novavax.
While Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rely on technology that has not been used in previous vaccines, the Novavax jab uses a more traditional method of recreating part of the spike protein of the virus to stimulate the immune system and can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures like the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs.
NVX-CoV2373 contains a full-length, prefusion spike protein made using Novavax’ recombinant nanoparticle technology and the company’s proprietary saponin-based Matrix-M adjuvant.
The purified protein is encoded by the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] spike (S) protein and is produced in insect cells. It can neither cause COVID-19 nor can it replicate. It is stable at 2 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees Celsius (refrigerated) and is shipped in a ready-to-use liquid formulation that permits distribution using existing vaccine supply chain channels.
“These are spectacular results, and we are very pleased to have helped Novavax with the development of this vaccine. The efficacy shown against the emerging variants is also extremely encouraging. This is an incredible achievement that will ensure we can protect individuals in the UK and the rest of the world from this virus,” said Clive Dix, Chair, UK Vaccine Taskforce.
Novavax is currently stockpiling vaccines at six manufacturing locations and is aiming for eight plants in seven countries to produce 2 billion doses a year. The UK will manufacture its doses at Stockton-on-Tees in north-east England.
According to the latest figures, more than 7.4 million people in the UK have so far received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The government has set a target to vaccinate all the top priority groups of the population by mid-February.
The coronavirus has claimed 103,324 lives, along with over 3.7 million confirmed cases, in the UK.