The UK government has announced a new deal with biopharmaceutical company CureVac to develop vaccines against future variants of the Covid-19 virus.
Almost all vaccines developed through the agreement with the German vaccine manufacturer will be modifications of an existing jab by CureVac, which is currently undergoing Phase 3 clinical trials.
Varieties of the vaccine will be based on messenger RNA technology that can be “reformulated against variants more quickly than older and more traditional vaccine technologies” the Government explained.
This technology is already being used in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines which are approved for use in the UK.
‘50 million doses of the new vaccines’
Announcing the new deal, the Government said that the new agreement will “utilise UK expertise on genomics and virus sequencing to allow new varieties based on messenger RNA technology to be developed quickly against new strains of Covid-19 if they are needed”.
The Government has placed an initial order for 50 million doses of new vaccines to be delivered later this year, if they are required. This is in addition to the 407 million doses already secured by the UK government.
The process of tweaking vaccines in response to new variants is similar to the method used to update flu vaccines each year.
‘We must be prepared for all eventualities’
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “The UK’s vaccine programme has been a national success story so far, and we are determined to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be in the long term if new variants of Covid-19 emerge.
“This fantastic new partnership means we can work to swiftly tweak and rollout new variations of existing vaccines if we need to, while also building up Britain’s vaccine manufacturing base in the process.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The vaccines we are deploying now are safe and effective, with the latest evidence suggesting they provide protection against new strains of Covid-19.
“But we must be prepared for all eventualities and bolster onshore UK manufacturing capacity to develop vaccines to combat new variants of the disease, taking advantage of our world leading genomics expertise.
“This will help ensure we can continue to provide everyone with a high level of protection against the virus and safe lives.”
‘Our vaccines will have to adapt to offer the best possible protection’
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “While the vaccines currently being deployed in the UK appear to work well against the Covid-19 variants currently dominant in the UK, the virus continues to mutate and it is likely that our vaccines will have to adapt to continue to offer the best possible protection.
“Being able to create these new vaccines at speed will allow our scientists to keep ahead of the virus as they do every year with the influenza virus.”
Vaccines Minister Nahim Zahawi said: “This is exactly the kind of work that will stand us in good stead as we continue our monumental effort to end this pandemic and return to normality.
“Of course we urge people to continue to take up the chance to have a vaccine when they are invited to - all of which are safe and have been proved to be effective against the virus.”
‘We will be ready to respond swiftly to new strains’
Interim Chair of the Vaccines Taskford Clive Dix said: “Today’s agreement will mean the UK is better prepared for the emergence of any significant new virus variant.
“Because the mRNA vaccines can be rapidly adapted we will be ready to respond swiftly to new strains and update vaccines in the same way the flu vaccine is updated each year - a vital part of ending the pandemic once and for all.”
Dr Antony Blanc, Chief Business Officer and Chief Commercial Officer of CureVac, added: “One of the biggest challenges we continue to face in combating Covid-19 is the emergence of multiple variants, each of which poses a potentially significant threat to public health.
“The UK government and its Vaccines Taskforce (VTF) has been at the forefront of surveillance, vaccine development and delivery of vaccines for deployment during this pandemic.
“At CureVac, we believe we have the ability to quickly adapt our mRNA technology to address current variants and prepare for the emergence of new strains.
“This collaboration is expected to bring to bear our significant combined forces to ensure vaccines keep winning against Covid-19.”