New twists and turns continue to come in the scramble to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Last week, Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) reported more great results from a phase 1 study of its vaccine candidate mRNA-1273. This week, medical journal The Lancet published positive results for AZD1222, the COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) and the University of Oxford. Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) also announced more good news for experimental coronavirus vaccine BNT162b1.
There have also been two recent findings that potentially impact all of the drugmakers developing vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. Could these findings dramatically change the prospects for COVID-19 vaccine stocks?
Earlier this month, science journal Cell published a paper that laid out evidence that a mutation of the novel coronavirus called D614G makes the virus more infectious. This mutation seems to have occurred relatively soon after SARS-CoV-2 first appeared in Wuhan, China. But it’s now present in as many as 97% of COVID-19 tests.
Why could mutations be problematic for COVID-19 vaccines? Just think about how current flu vaccines work. Every year, healthcare experts try to predict which flu strains will be most prevalent. There are different strains because of genetic mutations in the viruses that cause influenza. The flu vaccines that are given for that season target those strains. But the experts aren’t always right. That’s why sometimes people receive a flu vaccine but still get the flu.
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to mutations in the novel coronavirus. First the good news: The D614G mutation shouldn’t affect COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development. This mutation occurs in a different region of the spike protein than the one on which most of the experimental vaccines are based.
What’s the bad news? Future mutations to SARS-CoV-2 could potentially make the vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca, Moderna, and others less effective. Infectious-disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty, of Florida International University, has warned that other mutations could slow the development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. It’s also possible that vaccines could be rendered less effective after they’re in widespread use.
Several studies over the last couple of months have suggested that patients who recover from COVID-19 quickly lose their neutralizing antibodies that protect against the novel coronavirus. Last week, King’s College London released results from the most comprehensive research on this effect so far. And those results raised some concerns.
Neutralizing antibodies are typically produced in patients diagnosed with COVID-19, and reach peak levels after a few weeks. However, the levels…