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Vaccines can be formulated ‘over and over again’: Moderna ready for new COVID variants

Emma Koehn
Sydney Morning Herald
Dec 3, 2021

Moderna’s co-founder expects the biotech’s vaccine will be at least somewhat effective against the Omicron variant, but says his company can quickly pump out variant-specific boosters for new strains when needed.

Speaking at the Sohn Hearts and Minds virtual investment conference, Professor Robert Langer said that despite the global jitters about Omicron, it would still take a week and a half to find out exactly how effective current vaccines are against it.

“I think the jury is still out,” he said. “I certainly expect it will be somewhat effective.”

He estimated more would be known about the effectiveness of the Moderna shot in “about a week and a half”, when results from the company’s studies into Omicron come through. “I am just speculating, but [results would be ready] say a week from Sunday, for example”.

Professor Langer, who is a multi-billionaire serial biotechnology entrepreneur, a professor at MIT and the most cited engineer in history, explained Moderna was capable of engineering multiple new vaccines for COVID variants beyond Omicron if needed, thanks to messenger-RNA technology.

“With the technology, once you know the structure you can very, very, quickly with computer programs design the messenger-RNA structure that you want and formulate it. I see no reason why that can’t be done over and over again,” he said.

While he is hopeful the world would go back to normal in the future thanks to vaccines and treatments, he said he believes the virus will remain active for years to come, like influenza.

“I expect that we 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 the flu,” he said.

Earlier this week, Australian vaccine researchers said the rise of Omicron underscored the need for local vaccine manufacturing to assist the region in the fight against future variants.

The United Kingdom bought an additional 114 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna as part of its two-year contracts with the vaccine makers to secure access in the face of rising variants.

Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla has echoed Professor Langer’s view that the virus will be around for the long term, telling the BBC he believed annual COVID vaccines would be a necessity for many years to come.

This article was originally posted by The Sydney Morning Herald here.

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