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Monday, April 12, 2021

GlaxoSmithKline and CureVac to make Covid vaccines targeting new variants

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GlaxoSmithKline has said it will work with a German biopharmaceutical company to develop new vaccines targeting emerging variants of Covid-19 amid concerns that some mutations are making the virus harder to combat.

The UK-based drug maker plans to invest 150 million euros (£132 million) to support the research of CureVac, which is developing vaccines that use messenger RNA to attack the disease.

GSK also said it will help make up to 100 million doses of the company’s existing Covid-19 vaccine candidate this year.

“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first-generation Covid-19 vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,” the companies said in a statement.

The announcement came as public health officials around the world raise concerns about new virus variants that are more contagious or resistant to existing vaccines.

While viruses mutate constantly, most of the changes cause little concern, but scientists are closely tracking the mutations to make sure they quickly identify variants of concern.

Authorities in England are this week conducting house to-house coronavirus testing in targeted communities in a bid to snuff out a new variant before it spreads widely and undermines a nationwide vaccination programme.

Officials want to test about 80,000 people in eight areas where the variant, first identified in South Africa, is believed to be spreading after a handful of cases were found in people who had no contact with the country or anyone who travelled there.

Public health officials are concerned about the variant first identified in South Africa because it contains a mutation of the virus’s characteristic spike protein targeted by existing vaccines. The mutation may mean the vaccines offer less protection against the variant.

“We believe that next-generation vaccines will be crucial in the continued fight against Covid-19,” GSK chief executive Emma Walmsley said in the statement.

“This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together, we will combine our scientific expertise in mRNA and vaccine development to advance and accelerate the development of new Covid-19 vaccine candidates.”

Meanwhile, China has announced a plan to provide 10 million vaccine doses to developing nations through the global Covax initiative.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing is responding to a request from the World Health Organisation as developing countries seek to fill shortages predicted to run until March.

Mr Wang called it an important policy decision by China to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines and to promote international co-operation in efforts against the pandemic.

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