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Novavax says COVID-19 vaccine 89% effective, less for South Africa variant

Novavax says COVID-19 vaccine 89% effective, less for South Africa variant
Novavax also said it has begun developing "new constructs" to fight emerging coronavirus strains and expects to select candidate vaccines soon. File Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Biotech Novavax says its COVID-19 vaccine has proven in late-stage clinical trials to be almost 90% effective, though it shows a less robust response to the South African variant of the virus.

The company announced the data on Thursday, which shows that its protein-based NVX-CoV2373 vaccine demonstrated a 89.3% efficacy rate in its Phase 3 clinical trial conducted in Britain, which involved more than 15,000 volunteers between the ages of 18 to 84.

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"These are spectacular results, and we are very pleased to have helped Novavax with the development of this vaccine," Clive Dix, chair of Britain's vaccine task force, said in a statement.

"This is an incredible achievement that will ensure we can protect individuals in the U.K. and the rest of the world from this virus."

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However, while the vaccine proved effective at protecting against the virus, a small trial of 4,400 volunteers showed it was only 49% effective at protecting against its fast-spreading South African variant. The company said its efficacy though goes up to 60% when tested only on HIV-negative subjects.

"The 60% reduced risk against COVID-19 illness in vaccinated individuals in South Africans underscores the value of this vaccine to prevent illness from the highly worrisome variant currently circulating in South Africa, and which is spreading globally," said Prof. Shabir Maddi, principal investigator in the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trial in South Africa.

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Novavax, which has received $1.6 billion in U.S. funding, said it initiated development for "new constructs" to fight emerging strains and expects to select candidate vaccines soon. Trials will begin in the second quarter of this year, the company said.

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"This is the first COVID-19 vaccine for which we now have objective evidence that it protects against the variant dominating in South Africa," Maddi said. "I am encouraged to see that Novavax plans to immediately begin clinical development on a vaccine specifically targeted to the variant, which together with the current vaccine is likely to form the cornerstone of the fight against COVID-19."

The first cases of the South Africa variant were reported in the United States on Thursday, in South Carolina.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain's medicine regulator will assess the Novavax vaccine, which is being manufactured in the northern British city of Teesside, for approval.

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"If approved, we have 60 [million] doses on order," he tweeted.

Health secretary Matt Hancock cheered the news as a success of global collaboration.

"Our vaccine strategy is working," he tweeted.

The Canadian government has also secured more than 50 million doses of the Novavax vaccine.

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