New twists and turns continue to come in the scramble to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Last week, Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) reported more great results from a phase 1 study of its vaccine candidate mRNA-1273. This week, medical journal The Lancet published positive results for AZD1222, the COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) and the University of Oxford. Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) also announced more good news for experimental coronavirus vaccine BNT162b1.
There have also been two recent findings that potentially impact all of the drugmakers developing vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. Could these findings dramatically change the prospects for COVID-19 vaccine stocks?
Earlier this month, science journal Cell published a paper that laid out evidence that a mutation of the novel coronavirus called D614G makes the virus more infectious. This mutation seems to have occurred relatively soon after SARS-CoV-2 first appeared in Wuhan, China. But it’s now present in as many as 97% of COVID-19 tests.
Why could mutations be problematic for COVID-19 vaccines? Just think about how current flu vaccines work. Every year, healthcare experts try to predict which flu strains will be most prevalent. There are different strains because of genetic mutations in the viruses that cause influenza. The flu vaccines that are given for that season target those strains. But the experts aren’t always right. That’s why sometimes people receive a flu vaccine but still get the flu.
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to mutations in the novel coronavirus. First the good news: The D614G mutation shouldn’t affect COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development. This mutation occurs in a different region of the spike protein than the one on which most of the experimental vaccines are based.
What’s the bad news? Future mutations to SARS-CoV-2 could potentially make the vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca, Moderna, and others less effective. Infectious-disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty, of Florida International University, has warned that other mutations could slow the development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. It’s also possible that vaccines could be rendered less effective after they’re in widespread use.
Several studies over the last couple of months have suggested that patients who recover from COVID-19 quickly lose their neutralizing antibodies that protect against the novel coronavirus. Last week, King’s College London released results from the most comprehensive research on this effect so far. And those results raised some concerns.
Neutralizing antibodies are typically produced in patients diagnosed with COVID-19, and reach peak levels after a few weeks. However, the levels of neutralizing antibodies then begin to decline, sometimes significantly.
Patients with SARS and MERS, two other members of the coronavirus family, can still have neutralizing antibodies almost a year later. But the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 appears to be quite different; neutralizing antibodies can practically vanish within a much shorter period of time.
The obvious issue is that immunity for patients who recover from COVID-19 might not last longer than a few months. This isn’t a foregone conclusion, though.
With some infectious diseases such as smallpox, antibody levels can fall significantly, yet people who’ve recovered still enjoy immunity. A similar effect could be seen with SARS-CoV-2. It’s also possible that immune cells called memory T cells could be just as important to providing immunity against the novel coronavirus as neutralizing antibodies. The King’s College London study didn’t assess T-cell levels in patients.
The market dynamics for COVID-19 vaccines (and the stocks of the companies that make them) could be changed by both of these findings. For example, genetic mutations that make the novel coronavirus more infectious or more severe would almost certainly drive higher demand for COVID-19 vaccines. Individuals who might be reluctant to receive a vaccine could change their minds if the pandemic worsens.
But what if genetic mutations occur that cause COVID-19 vaccines to be ineffective? Drugmakers like AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer could be engaged in a continual race to develop modified vaccines to keep up with the new viral strains. And demand wouldn’t be nearly as high for vaccines that have a high probability of not working.
Perhaps a greater impact for COVID-19 vaccine companies, though, could be experienced if immunity lasts for only a few months after vaccination. It’s possible that this could boost sales for the drugmakers, since more vaccine doses would be needed each year. On the other hand, it’s also not out of the question that many individuals would forgo a short-acting vaccine altogether.
Regardless of what happens, any of the drugmakers that ultimately win regulatory approval for their respective COVID-19 vaccine candidates should capture part of a massive multibillion-dollar market. But just how big that market will actually be depends on the twists and turns that could be on the way.
Province announced 131 new cases of COVID-19 in past three days; active case count rises again – radionl.com
The province is reporting 131 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday afternoon.
The active case count has risen to 445 in B.C. That’s up from 386 on Friday and 278 on July 31.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says we need to do better as a province to stop exposure events from happening.
“Parties and gatherings with young people, many of whom you don’t know, even if there aren’t 50 people are a concern. And we have seen that. We saw that on the July 1st long weekend. We’ve seen it across the province, where people have been coming together and having group gatherings with different people and not maintaining safe distances from people they don’t know.”
Meantime, there were no new deaths in B.C. from COVID over the weekend, and there has not been one since July 31.
There are now nine people in hospital with the virus and two people in intensive care.
The total case count in B.C. since COVID-19 arrived is now 4,065, and 1,012 of those cases have happened in the past month.
BC records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths – Fernie Free Press
From Friday to Monday B.C. recorded 131 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of active confirmed cases as of Monday (Aug. 10) to 445.
Nine of those people are battling the disease in hospital, three of whom are in critical care or intensive care, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed in a news conference Monday afternoon.
Broken down by day, 50 people tested positive for the respiratory illness Friday to Saturday, 37 on Saturday to Sunday and a further 44 on Sunday to Monday.
There have been no new deaths, leaving the total to 195 lives lost linked to the novel coronavirus.
Many of those who tested positive over the weekend were linked to prior cases, Henry said. There are currently 1,765 identified by contact tracing for being in close contact with an infected person who are self-monitoring or in touch with public health staff.
More to come.
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Manitobans to get more detailed regional breakdown of COVID-19 cases this week, says minister – CBC.ca
Manitobans can expect to get more details about where new COVID-19 cases are popping up by the end of the week, but it’s not yet clear how specific that information will be.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Monday the province will begin releasing more “nuanced” geographical breakdowns of where new cases emerge beginning later this week — a significant shift since the virus arrived in the province five months ago
Up until now, the province has generally only identified the regional health authority of new cases, occasionally offering more pointed information depending on the public health risk in those areas.
Moving forward those regions will be split down into finer zones or districts, said Friesen.
The impetus for the shift is that the province knows more now than it did in March when the coronavirus officially arrived in Manitoba, he said.
“We don’t think there’s any benefit in someone knowing that someone has COVID-19 that lives four blocks down from you or down the street, but it’s this balancing act of providing good information in a timely way to Manitobans and then of course on the other side making sure there isn’t a negative effect from over-identification.”
Another change that’s on the way is linked to hard-hit communities, said Manitoba’s chief public health officer.
Dr. Brent Roussin suggested that if things get out of control, certain communities in particular could see a return to past restrictions.
“As we move forward our approach is to not have widespread restrictions, take a much more surgical approach as any restrictions are required,” said Dr. Brent Roussin.
He said health officials don’t yet have anything too specific in mind. He didn’t share a possible timeline for region-specific restrictions.
But Roussin made the comments Monday after announcing 16 new cases and addressing a cluster in Brandon that has soared to at least 64.
Most of the active cases are in Prairie Mountain and Southern health regions.
There are early signs of community spread in Brandon, which is when health officials are unable to confirm where someone got the virus, but most of the clusters cases have a known source, he said.
That’s why Brandon hasn’t been hit with restrictions — yet.
“We’re certainly talking about Brandon where we see this cluster,” he said. “That area should be taking extra caution.”
Roussin acknowledged increasing enforcement is an option but he would prefer to see businesses, organizations and individual take actions now to prevent that.
“By messaging, by things that Manitobans have learned, this is our opportunity to live with the virus, not shut things down,” he said.
“It shouldn’t be necessary to have to enforce these things to protect the health of Manitobans, but we will.”
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