The new COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa can evade the antibodies that attack it in treatments using blood plasma from previously recovered patients, and may reduce the efficacy of the current line of vaccines, scientists said on Wednesday.
Researchers are racing to establish whether the vaccines currently being rolled out across the globe are effective against the so-called 501Y.V2 variant, identified by South African genomics experts late last year in Nelson Mandela Bay.
“This lineage exhibits complete escape from three classes of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies,” the team of scientists from three South African universities working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) wrote in a paper in bioRxiv, a website that publishes scientific research prior to its being peer-reviewed and submitted to journals.
Merck Cans Both its COVID-19 Vaccines Due to Weak Clinical Data
Merck has stopped development of its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates after getting a look at phase 1 data. The vaccine powerhouse said neither candidate triggered immune responses comparable to those achieved by rival jabs, leading Merck to cut its losses and focus on COVID-19 therapeutics.
Last year, Merck executives emphasized the proven nature of their vaccine platforms and cast doubts on the likelihood of rivals with more experimental technologies completing development in months. The narrative was that, while companies such as Moderna and Pfizer had taken early leads by using mRNA, Merck would come from behind and deliver the effective, scalable, one-dose vaccines needed to end the pandemic.
Things played out differently in reality. Moderna and Pfizer, working with BioNTech, smashed Merck’s record for the fastest vaccine R&D program and delivered stellar data that left little room for rivals to improve on short-term efficacy. Now, Merck has exited the COVID-19 vaccine race altogether.