The American biotechnology company Moderna announced on Monday that the experimental vaccine against Covid-19 was almost 95 percent effective, which marked a second major breakthrough in the effort to stop the pandemic.
Modern released early results from a clinical trial with more than 30,000 participants, after the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech last week said that their vaccine was 90 percent effective.
Both fronts are based on new technology that uses synthetic versions of molecules called “messenger RNA” to hack into human cells and efficiently turn them into vaccine manufacturing plants.
“This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including serious disease,” said Modern CEO Stephane Bancel.
“The light at the end of the tunnel just got even brighter,” tweeted Atul Gawande, a member of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus council and a surgeon at a Harvard-affiliated hospital.
“We can now have several, very effective vaccines that spread widely in the spring and summer,” he added.
Modern plans to submit applications for emergency approval in the United States and around the world within a few weeks and says it expects to have about 20 million doses ready to be sent to the United States by the end of the year.
It says it is about to produce between 500 and one billion doses globally in 2021.
Global infections from Covid-19 have risen above 54 million with more than 1.3 million deaths since the virus broke out in China at the end of last year.
The modern vaccine, co-developed by the US National Institutes of Health, is given in two doses at 28-day intervals, and the preliminary results are based on 95 of the 30,000 volunteers who became ill with Covid-19.
Of the 95, 90 had been in the placebo group of the trials and five in the group that received the drug, called mRNA-1273, which gave an efficiency of 94.5 percent.
There were 11 people who became seriously ill, all in the placebo group.
The US government has invested approximately $ 2 billion in financing for the development, manufacture and potential delivery of the vaccine during its Warp Speed operation.
Most of the side effects of Moderna vaccine were classified as mild or moderate.
After the first dose, approximately three percent of the injection site pain was classified as severe.
Among serious side effects after the second dose, about 10 percent had fatigue, nine percent had muscle pain, five percent had joint or headache, four percent had other pain, and two percent had redness at the injection site.
These adverse events were “short-lived” according to a statement.
“This news from Moderna is extremely exciting and significantly increases the optimism that we will have a selection of good vaccines in the coming months,” says Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London.
Crucially, Moderna also announced that its vaccine can remain stable at normal refrigerator temperatures of 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit to 46 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 days.
The company added that it could be kept in long-term storage at normal freezing temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to six months.
Pfizer’s vaccine, on the other hand, must be stored in freezing conditions at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), which can complicate supply chain logistics, especially in less developed countries.
On the downside, Moderna’s vaccine has about three times more genetic material per dose than its Pfizer counterpart, Zoltan Kis, a research assistant at Imperial College’s Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub.
This would increase production costs and make it more difficult to scale up.
The promising results of both vaccines are seen as a validation for mRNA technology, which has never before been approved by the authorities.
It works by providing human cells with the genetic instructions to make a surface protein in the coronavirus, which trains the immune system to recognize the real virus.
Making a traditional vaccine is a lengthy process that normally involves developing a weakened form of a virus.
It is not yet clear how long the protection will be from either the Modern or Pfizer vaccines, nor how well they will work for the elderly, the highest-risk age group from Covid-19.
Another open question is whether they prevent people who are exposed to the virus from transmitting it to others, even though they themselves may be protected from the disease.