LONDON, Nov 26 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca said on
Friday it was examining the impact of a new coronavirus variant
that is spreading rapidly in South Africa on its vaccine and its
antibody cocktail, adding it was hopeful its combination drug
would retain efficacy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated a
new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, detected in South Africa with a
large number of mutations, as being "of concern".
AstraZeneca has distributed 2 billion doses of its vaccine
worldwide, although rollout of the shot was paused in South
Africa in February after it was shown to offer minimal
protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the Beta
variant, which was dominant in the country at the time.
"As with any new emerging variants, we are looking into
B.1.1.529 to understand more about it and the impact on the
vaccine," AstraZeneca said in a statement, adding it was
conducting research in Botswana and Eswatini to collect data.
"That will enable us to collect real world data of Vaxzevria
against this new virus variant."
The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm emphasised that the
vaccine has been shown to be effective against all SARS-CoV-2
variants of concern.
AstraZeneca said that it had developed a vaccine platform to
respond quickly to new variants with Oxford University, where
the vaccine was created. It has previously said it is working on
a variant vaccine to better target the Beta variant.
The company has also developed an antibody cocktail which
can be used both to prevent and to treat COVID-19.
Although some scientists have expressed concern that the
spike protein mutations might hinder the effectiveness of
monoclonal antibody drugs, the combination drug made by
AstraZeneca might retain its efficacy, the company said.
"We are also testing our long-acting antibody combination
AZD7442 against this new variant and are hopeful AZD7442 will
retain efficacy since it comprises two potent antibodies with
different and complementary activities against the virus," it
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Elaine