Developed by BioNTech: early warning system for high-risk variants

Status: 11.01.2022 3:47 p.m.

BioNTech has developed an early warning system with the British company InstaDeep for the detection of high-risk variants of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Mainz company’s sales forecast is causing disappointment.

The Mainz vaccine developer BioNTech and the British company InstaDeep have developed a new calculation method 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 corona virus 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.

New variant from France harmless

During the trial period, the system detected more than 90 percent of the virus variants identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) two months in advance. The variants alpha, beta, gamma, theta, eta and omicron identified by the WHO were recognized by the EWS in the same week in which their sequence was uploaded for the first time.

The variant recently observed in France was also evaluated by the new system. The results show that its ability to bypass the immune system is similar to that of the Omicron variant, but that it is significantly less fit. In view of the current data, this makes them less of a concern, says BioNTech.

“The early detection of potential high-risk variants could be an effective tool to warn researchers, vaccine developers, health authorities and political decision-makers in a timely manner and thus to have more time to initiate appropriate measures against questionable new virus variants,” said BioNTech boss Ugur Sahin. BioNTech entered into a long-term partnership with InstaDeep, a specialist in artificial intelligence, at the end of 2020, which is intended to support the company in the development of new immunotherapies.

Sales should stagnate

Meanwhile, BioNTech does not expect any further sales growth with its vaccine in the current year. For 2022, the board of directors is assuming a range of 13 to 17 billion euros, after sales last year, as predicted, were likely to have been 16 to 17 billion euros. The statements were not well received on the stock exchange, the BioNTech share fell below the threshold of 200 euros after having been over 300 euros at the end of November.

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