A third coronavirus vaccine is even more effective than either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Russian jab, interim trial results suggest.
Just a week after pharma giant Pfizer announced that it had succeeded in creating a vaccine which protects 90 per cent of people, the US biotech company Moderna said its version was successful in 94.5 per cent of trial participants.
The Moderna drug is far easier to distribute than Pfizer because it can be kept in usual freezer conditions of -4F (-20C), whereas Pfizer’s jab needs to be stored and transported in dry ice at around -103F (-75C).
British experts hailed the latest announcement as “tremendously exciting” and said it suggested the world would soon have several available jabs. The Government said it was in “advanced discussions” with Moderna to ensure access to the new vaccine.
It currently has 350 million vaccines on order from BioNTech/Pfizer, Oxford/astraZeneca, Novavax, Janssen, GSK/Sanofi Pasteur and Valneva.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: “First we heard 90 per cent efficacy from Pfizer and BioNTech, then the Russians said 92 per cent and now Moderna says 94.5 per cent.
“This news from Moderna is tremendously exciting and considerably boosts optimism that we will have a choice of good vaccines in the next few months. This announcement adds to the general feeling of optimism about vaccines for Covid-19.”
The Moderna jab mRNA-1273 is a “messenger RNA” vaccine which works by instructing the body’s cells to build the coronavirus “spike protein” – the little stick on the outside of the virus which allows it to attach to human cells.
Once the body starts producing these proteins, the immune system sees them as foreign and initiates a T-cell and antibody response, priming it to fight off a real infection.
Moderna has been testing the jab on 30,000 people, and interim results show it protected nearly all of them from the virus, including the elderly and vulnerable who are most at risk. It is the first vaccine so far to be shown to protect older people.
This first interim analysis was based on 95 cases, of which 90 cases of Covid-19 were observed in the placebo group versus five cases observed in the mRNA-1273 group.
A secondary study analysed severe cases of Covid-19 and included 11 severe cases. All 11 cases occurred in the placebo group and none in the mRNA-1273 vaccinated group.
Side-effects were mild and short-lived and included fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, headache and soreness at the injection site.
“This is a pivotal moment in the development of our Covid-19 vaccine candidate,” said Stéphane Bancel, the chief executive officer of Moderna. “Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible.
“This positive interim analysis from our Phase Three study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent Covid-19 disease, including severe disease. This milestone is only possible because of the hard work and sacrifices of so many.”
Moderna said it intends to submit for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the coming weeks.
Commenting on the results, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “This announcement from Moderna is a further encouragement that vaccines will be found to not only have an acceptable efficacy, but an efficacy that is much greater than we had anticipated.
“This is the first study to report on severe cases and, while uncertainty remains, the finding of no severe cases with the vaccine and 11 cases with placebo is very strong evidence that the vaccine prevents severe as well as mild disease.”
Trudie Lang, director of the Global Health Network at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, added: “It is very good news indeed to see another vaccine coming through with similar efficacy results as were reported last week from Pfizer.”
A Government spokesman said: “The news from Moderna appears to be good and represents another significant step towards finding an effective Covid-19 vaccine.”