The first Australian lab to manufacture the mRNA vaccine has some good news for those concerned about the efficacy of the Covid-19 jab against the new Omicron variant.
The Monash University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences on Tuesday said it was well prepared to make a specific vaccine to protect against the new variant of the virus if necessary.
“The new variant Omicron has an unprecedented number of mutations in its receptor binding domain. How concerned we should be about this variant remains to be seen,” research team head Colin Pouton said.
“But our RBD mRNA vaccine program is perfectly suited to producing a specific vaccine to protect against this new variant.”
The world is holding its breath waiting to find out if the currently available Covid-19 vaccines are less effective against Omicron than the earlier variants.
The chief executive of vaccine manufacturer Moderna told the Financial Times on Tuesday he believed current jabs were unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron strain.
“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level … we had with Delta,” Stephane Bancel said.
“I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data.
“But all the scientists I’ve talked to are like ‘this is not going to be good’.”
Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly was more optimistic, noting the preliminary information about the new variant indicated its symptoms were “mild” and there was no reason to believe existing vaccines were less effective against it.
“We do not have any evidence at the moment either in the laboratory in clinical studies or from a population-wide basis that there is a problem with the vaccines – as far as we know the vaccines work,” Mr Kelly told Sky News on Monday.
In the event current vaccines were less effective against Omicron, Monash University’s world-class research meant it would be ready to adapt to Australia’s changing Covid-19 needs, vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said.
“Monash is at the cutting edge of mRNA/RNA therapeutics development, and with the emergence of the Omicron variant, we have been reminded how crucial it is for Australia to develop vaccine and manufacturing sovereign capability,” Professor Gardner said.
“Working collaboratively with the Australian and Victorian governments, other research institutions and our industry partners, Monash is committed to ensuring Australia is well placed for long-term resilience against Covid-19.”
In June, the Victorian Government granted Monash University $5m through mRNA Victoria to manufacture a vaccine.
It has now successfully manufactured the vaccine candidate in preparation for Phase 1 clinical trials to be conducted by the Doherty Institute early next year.
Phase 1 clinical trials are expected to take six months.
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