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Co-founder Robert Langer says Moderna will know within days if its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine is effective against Omicron

Cliona O'Dowd
The Australian
Dec 3, 2021

Moderna co-founder Robert Langer has suggested the vaccine maker will know within days if its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine is effective against the new variant, Omicron, as he predicted future mutations and the likelihood of the virus becoming “something life flu” that will require regular vaccine boosters.

Speaking at the Sohn Hearts & Minds conference on Friday, Dr Langer said Moderna would be able to create a new vaccine to tackle Omicron “quite quickly” if necessary.

“Moderna is working on three strategies: Strategy one is, how well does the existing vaccine work?

“Strategy two is, they’ve already made vaccines against several of the different variants and those are already in human testing. And when you look at the structures, they are closer to the Omicron variant than the original, so they may also work again to a reasonable degree.

“And thirdly, if you look back at what Moderna did, back in 2020, they were able to design on paper, on the computer, the vaccine, within a day. They shipped that vaccine, fully formulated, to Washington DC within a month and humans were tested within two months. If anything, they’re going to be able to move faster now than they did then.”

Moderna would know “a week from Sunday” if its vaccine is effective against Omicron, he said.

Dr Langer was unsure if further human trials will be needed for new variants each time but said he expected the FDA would do whatever they could to progress vaccine approvals as quickly as possible.

The challenge with new variants would be how infectious and lethal they are, he said.

“People think maybe (Omicron) is more infectious and some of the things you read make you think it’s less lethal. So I think those kinds of things are very important.

“If you had one variant that was going tot be like the common cold, you might not be so concerned about it.”

The virus is unlikely to die out any time soon, he predicted.

“I think it could be something like flu. You have to be concerned that this isn’t going away, that it is important for people to get vaccinated just like they get vaccinated against flu.

“On the positive side of, the mRNA vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, are 95 per cent effective, and if you take boosters they get you back up. I don’t see (the virus) going away quickly. But I could be wrong.”

Dr Langer, who co-founded Moderna in 2010, also spoke on some of the other work the pharmaceutical and biotech company is currently engaged in.

“We’ve been making pills that you can swallow that might last for a week, or a month, the entire course of treatment.

“We’re working on vaccines that you get once and you’ll get multiple pulses from them, so you wouldn’t have to come back for repeat injections. We’re even making them into BandAid type patches, like micro needles that you could put on the skin, so you could ship them around the world and they theoretically, would be stable.

The company is also working on better ways of doing messenger RNA delivery, he said.

“The other big area that we’re working on is tissue engineering: so can you make tissues and organs from scratch.”

Looking ahead, Dr Langer spoke of the scientific innovations currently being developed that he sees having a big impact in the future.

“I think cellular therapies, whether it’s cancer-killing cells or regenerative medicine, they will have a huge impact on medicine. They’re starting to already.

“The whole area of combining artificial intelligence and machine learning with data to help make predictions about drug discovery and diagnostics, I think is very important.”

New advances in nanotechnology and drug delivery, possibly oral delivery, would also be important, he said.

“There’s also areas like digital medicine. There’s actually a lot of areas that are important, but maybe the most important things don’t have a name because they haven’t been discovered yet.”

This article was originally posted by The Australian here.

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