Drug makers rise to Omicron challenge

Sopuruchi Onwuka

Leading pharmaceutical companies in the world which are currently innovating solutions to the ravaging coronavirus pandemic are now facing up to the panic about the latest strain of the virus described by the World health Organization as  Omicron.

The major manufacturers, who have already developed vaccines to curb the spread of the parent coronavirus vector and pills for treatment of the disease, would soon be churning out improved products to curb the impact of the emerging Omicron.

Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their joint mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 could be tweaked within 100 days to specifically counter Omicron. Moderna stated that it has also two multi-valent booster candidates designed to anticipate mutations such as those that have emerged in the Omicron variant. And Johnson & Johnson declared that it is already testing its vaccine against the new variant.

Scientists say that Omicron’s spike protein which attached to human cells has 32 mutations. The existing vaccines and antibody medicines currently target and inhibit the spike proteins of known variants, making new variants a serious source of concern. Fears are that there is a greater risk that existing vaccines and medicines might not be effective against the Omicron.

Concerns over the variant soared after a World Health Organization (WHO) described omicron as highly transmissible virus of concern, just like the delta variant currently plaguing highly inoculated Europe, United States and Russia.

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Scientists say they are yet to understand the actual risks posed by Omicron but the WHO stated that the variant is suggested to carry higher risk of reinfection than other highly transmissible variants. There are fears that the Omicron could reinfect people who recovered from COVID-19.

The Oracle Today reports that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 technically termed the B.1.1.529 which was detected in Southern Africa, Europe and Asia has plunged the world into a new wave of panic following rising cases of infection in Europe, America and Russia.

Governments of the world have since Friday imposed travel restrictions on impacted countries even though the Omicron has spread across the key countries and continents of the earth in a very short period.

The United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from southern African countries where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.

Countries under watch are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. And travelers from these countries have been detected with COVID-19 in counties in Europe, Asia and Israel.

Beyond travel bans, global economy also awaits the Omicron, with commodity and energy prices halting consistent gains, and global equity market indices taking a bow. At the news of Omicron, the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly dropped more than 1,000 points. The S&P 500 index closed down 2.3%, its worst day since February. The price of oil plunged about 13%.

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Calculations are that a new wave of infections and hospitalizations might require governments to lockdown socio-economic activities.

Thus, the world once again relies on the pharmaceutical and medical scientists to address current anxiety associated with the dreaded coronavirus variant. And the companies already in the fray have announced intention to study the Omicron within weeks and come up with remedy.

BioNTech which developed a COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer declared that it would determine in 14 days if its existing vaccine is potent against Omicron, saying it expects more data from ongoing laboratory tests.

Meanwhile the company said the Omicron variant differs significantly from previously observed variants and added that it immediately initiated investigations on “variant B.1.1.529.”

“Pfizer and BioNTech have taken actions months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant,” the company said.

“To that end, the companies have begun clinical trials with variant-specific vaccines (alpha and delta) to collect safety and tolerability data that can be provided to regulators,” the company continued.

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On its own, another vaccine producer, Moderna, announced that it has activated strategies for addressing new variant, saying it has already been testing a booster in healthy adults that contains twice the dosage amount currently authorized.

Moderna stated that it has also been “studying two multi-valent booster candidates in the clinic that were designed to anticipate mutations such as those that have emerged in the Omicron variant.

As the third prong of its strategy, Moderna says it will “rapidly advance an Omicron-specific booster candidate,” nothing that the company “has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to advance new candidates to clinical testing in 60-90 days.”

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel stated: “From the beginning, we have said that as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves.”

“The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant,” he said.

Novavax also declared that it has already started creating a COVID-19 vaccine based on the known genetic sequence of B.1.1.529 “and will have it ready to begin testing and manufacturing within the next few weeks”.

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