BERLIN – The German pharmaceutical BioNTech is confident that its coronavirus vaccine will work against the new variant detected in Britain, although more studies are needed to be completely sure, its CEO said today.
The variant, detected mainly in London and south-east England in recent weeks, has raised concerns around the world over signs that it could spread more easily. Although there is no indication that it causes a more serious illness, many countries inside and outside Europe have restricted the arrival of passengers from Great Britain as a precaution.
“At this time we do not know if our vaccine can also provide protection against this new variant,” Ugur Sahin told a press conference the day after the vaccine was authorized for use in the European Union. “But on a scientific level, it is very likely that the immune response of this vaccine can also deal with the new variants of the virus.”
Sahin noted that the British variant proteins are 99% consistent with the most widespread versions of the virus, and therefore BioNTech has “scientific confidence” that its vaccine will be effective.
“But we will only know if the experiment is done and we will need about two weeks from now to get the data,” he said. “The odds that our vaccine will work … are relatively high.”
If the vaccine had to be adjusted for the new variant, the company could do so in about six weeks, Sahin said, although regulatory authorities may have to authorize the changes before using the modified drug.
BioNTech’s vaccine, developed in conjunction with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, is licensed for use in more than 45 countries, including Great Britain, the United States, and members of the EU.