CureVac’s mRNA Covid vaccine flunks clinical trial

The German pharmaceuticals company CureVac revealed disappointing results from trials of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, damping hopes that the jab can help meet the global need for effective inoculations.

CureVac on Wednesday said its jab was 47 per cent effective at protecting against coronavirus in an interim analysis of its late-stage trials, making it one of the least effective coronavirus vaccines tested so far.

Earlier this week the US drugmaker Novavax said its protein-based shot was 90 per cent effective at combating coronavirus while the Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer jabs are 95 per cent effective at tackling the original strain of the virus.

CureVac’s Nasdaq-listed shares plunged 50 per cent in after-market trading in New York.

The company attributed the underwhelming results to new strains of the virus that were circulating in 10 countries across Latin America and Europe, where its trials were carried out.

In its study of 40,000 people, CureVac said 13 variants were found in volunteers, with more than half of the coronavirus cases caused by variants of concern.

However, data from the UK this week showed that BioNTech/Pfizer’s rival two-dose messenger ribonucleic acid vaccine was 96 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation of those infected with the Delta variant, which was first detected in India.

This week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added the Delta strain to its list of variants of concern. 

CureVac has partnered with the German manufacturing conglomerate Bayer to produce its coronavirus vaccine and has an agreement with the British pharma company GlaxoSmithKline to create a next generation of jabs.

The weak trial results throw the viability of those projects into doubt. CureVac aims to produce 300m doses of its vaccine this year and 1bn in 2022.

“While we were hoping for a stronger interim outcome, we recognise that demonstrating high efficacy in this unprecedented broad diversity of variants is challenging,” said Franz-Werner Haas, chief executive of CureVac. He added that the plethora of variants “underlines the importance of developing next-generation vaccines”.

The vaccine is also currently being studied in the UK as part of a booster trial which involves administering different shots to people who have already received two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines.

Like the Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines, CureVac’s jab uses mRNA but its mRNA is natural and unmodified. Its shot also uses a lower dose, 12 micrograms compared to Moderna’s 100mg and BioNTech/Pfizer’s 30mg, which results in a lower cost of production, and is stable at conventional fridge temperatures.

CureVac said it would continue trials of its two-dose mRNA vaccine and would decide the most appropriate regulatory route after assessing final trial data.

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