BioNTech of Germany - which is used by Pfizer for its vaccine - and Moderna from the US are working to adapt their Covid-19 vaccines to address the omicron variant, with the German partner of Pfizer saying it could have a new version ready within 100 days if necessary.
Shares in BioNTech leapt 7% in Frankfurt and Moderna shares were also indicated to trade sharply higher when trading gets underway in the US later this afternoon.
BioNTech has started development in order to move as quickly as possible, it said in a statement.
The German company which is now valued by investors at over €75.3bn developed the vaccine in partnership with Pfizer.
Shares in AstraZeneca, the other leading vaccine maker, were unchanged in London trade on Monday.
The first steps of developing a new vaccine overlap with the research necessary in order to evaluate whether a new shot will be needed -- a process that both it and Moderna began last Thursday as news of the new variant began to spread around the world.
BioNTech and its partner Pfizer, as well as Moderna have been preparing for months for the possibility of needing to tweak their vaccines to deal with a new variant.
They’ll be able to move at unprecedented speed: Both vaccines use messenger RNA technology, which shortens the timeline for a new shot to only a few months.
Omicron has raised concerns around the world, with countries implementing travel bans to buy time as researchers race to study whether it will evade vaccines and spread more rapidly. Understanding the new strain will probably take several weeks, according to scientists.
BioNTech and Moderna have both said it should become clear within weeks whether they’d need to adjust their shots.
It’s standard procedure to begin developing an updated vaccine in parallel with running tests of how the new strain reacts with the existing shot “in order not to waste any time”, BioNTech said.
“Lab tests will deliver more information on whether or not adaption of the vaccine will be necessary,” the company said.
Vaccinated people should still be protected, depending on how long ago they got their shots, and for now the best advice is to take one of the current Covid vaccines, Moderna chief medical officer Paul Burton said over the weekend.
The Omicron variant carries a very high global risk of surges, the World Health Organisation, WHO, warned on Monday as more countries reported cases, prompting border closures.
BioNTech had said last week it expects more lab data over the next two weeks to help determine if there is need for an Omicron-specific vaccine.
Rival Moderna has said it was working on a redesign of its Covid-19 vaccine for future booster shots.
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