Delivery possible from March: BioNTech produces Omikron vaccine

Status: 11.01.2022 8:25 p.m.

BioNTech has started production of a vaccine version that is specifically designed to protect against the omicron variant of the coronavirus. In addition, the company presented a system with which risk variants can be discovered more quickly.

The Mainz-based pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer have started production of a corona vaccine adapted to the Omikron variant for later commercial use. BioNTech boss Ugur Sahin announced this at a health conference of the US bank JP Morgan. A clinical study on the vaccine will begin at the end of January. “We assume that we will be ready to deliver to the market by March if the regulatory approvals are in place.”

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet stated whether it considers a vaccine adapted to Omikron with a different composition than the vaccine currently used to be necessary. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC that the company started production at its own risk. He does not know whether the remedy is needed or how it is used. “But we will be ready,” said Bourla.

BioNTech boss Sahin: “Very likely that an Omicron vaccine also strengthens the immune reactions against all existing variants.”

Bild: picture alliance / AA

According to Sahin, the pandemic development is unpredictable

The coronavirus vaccines currently used by various manufacturers were originally developed against the so-called wild type of Sars-CoV-2, which was first discovered in China at the end of 2019. While the agents used since the turn of the year 2020/2021 also showed their effect against later virulent mutants such as Alpha or Delta, it could look different with Omikron.

Sahin said in his online presence that the pandemic situation is currently still unclear and it cannot be foreseen which virus variant will appear next. “But it is very likely that an omicron vaccine will also strengthen the immune response against all existing variants,” said Sahin.

Early warning system for high risk variants

BioNTech had previously announced that they had developed a new calculation method with the British company InstaDeep with which high-risk variants of SARS-CoV-2 can be predicted. It is a kind of early warning system based on data calculated by artificial intelligence (AI). The highly contagious Omicron variant was classified as a high-risk variant by the system on the first day its sequence became available.

The new method combines the structure of the spike protein with AI algorithms to detect potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus as such within less than a day, explained BioNTech. To do this, the system uses information from Covid sequence databases, such as the viral fitness of the virus and its properties for immune evasion.

No endemic development yet

According to BioNTech, there is still a long way to go from a pandemic to an endemic development, i.e. to a less serious situation than at present. Safe predictions are not possible, said Sahin. Due to its spread all over the world, the coronavirus has a huge reservoir for new variants that could spread quickly.

Last year, BioNTech and Pfizer reportedly manufactured around three billion doses of vaccine worldwide. The market share for December 2021 was estimated at 80 percent in Europe and 74 percent in the USA. For the 2022 financial year, BioNTech estimates sales from the corona vaccine alone at 13 to 17 billion euros, for the 2021 financial year at 16 to 17 billion. This sum corresponds to the sales forecast for 2021 presented at the beginning of November. The figures for the fourth quarter are not yet available.

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