Moderna hopes to begin clinical trials early next year on a vaccine to protect against the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the drugmaker’s CEO said.
“It only needs minor adjustments for Omicron. I don’t expect any problems,” Stephane Bancel told Swiss newspaper TagesAnzeiger, referring to the company’s current COVID-19 jab.
He said they are just awaiting important information on Omicron to begin development.
“That will take another week or two,” Bancel said.
“It will take a few months before we can produce 500 million doses after (regulatory) approval. But our capacities are much higher today than a year ago.”
If the US Food and Drug Administration, Switzerland’s Swissmedic and other approval bodies require further studies, it would take at least three months to complete the process, he said.
“Some authorities want a study, others are still undecided. In my opinion, it depends very much on how severely the disease progresses,” Bancel told the outlet.
On Monday, Moderna announced that a booster dose of its vaccine significantly increases antibody levels against Omicron.
A 50-microgram jab — the authorized dose for a third shot — saw a 37-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies, said the vaccine maker, which also tested a 100-microgram booster dose, which increased antibody levels 83-fold.
The first two shots of Moderna’s vaccine are both 100 micrograms.
Bancel called the data “reassuring” but said it will continue to “rapidly advance an omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future.”
However, for now, the drugmaker said the current version of its vaccine — mRNA-1273 — will continue to be its “first line of defense against Omicron.”
The company produced between 700 million and 800 million vaccine doses this year, and expects to churn out a higher number in 2022, boosting production from 100 million doses a month to 150 million, Reuters reported.
US officials on Monday said that Omicron is now the dominant version of COVID-19 in the US, accounting for 73 percent of new infections last week — and a stunning 92 percent of cases in New York and New Jersey.
The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the Delta variant accounted for just 7.9 percent of new infections across the region from Dec. 12 through Dec. 18.
That’s a dramatic change from the week before, when the Delta variant still accounted for 74 percent of cases — far outpacing the hyper-contagious but far less deadly Omicron.