GSK and CureVac are making 'next-generation' vaccines that they say can tackle multiple COVID-19 variants at once

Netherlands Pfizer Vaccine Rollout
A healthcare worker in the Netherlands is given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on January 6. Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via AP
  • GlaxoSmithKline and CureVac have agreed to develop new vaccines that target multiple coronavirus variants.

  • The shots, designed as boosters in case immunity from another vaccine drops, could be available 2022.

  • Research suggests existing vaccines may be less effective against some coronavirus variants.

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UK pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and German biotech CureVac plan to co-develop "next generation" vaccines that could work against multiple coronavirus variants at once, the companies announced Wednesday.

The vaccines could be available in 2022, subject to authorization, and could work as a booster if immunity from another vaccine wanes, or for people who haven't yet been immunized, the companies said.

Research suggests existing vaccines - such as those made by Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna - may be less effective against contagious coronavirus variants with certain mutations.

The companies are investing €150 million ($180 million) in the tie-up.

The vaccines will be mRNA vaccines, which use a genetic code to trigger the body's immune response. The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the US, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, use the same technology.

Existing shots are good at protecting against the original virus, but lab-based studies suggest they may not work so well against the more contagious variants, especially against a mutation found in the variant from South Africa.

Pfizer said January 26 that it is already working on booster shots that protect against coronavirus variants. Moderna said January 25 that it would develop a new version of its COVID-19 shot to fight 501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa.

Read more: Top vaccine developers are upgrading COVID-19 shots as mutations threaten our progress in curbing the pandemic

The mutation scientists believe helps the variant in South Africa escape antibodies, and could cause current vaccines to be less effective, has been detected in the variant found in the UK too.

UK pharma giant GSK already had a stake in CureVac, a German biotech specialized in mRNA technology that went public in August 2020.

"This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together, we will combine our scientific expertise in mRNA and vaccine development to advance and accelerate the development of new COVID-19 vaccine candidates," Dame Emma Walmsley, chief executive officer at GSK, said.

GSK will also support the manufacture of up to 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine already developed by CureVac, called CVNCoV, in 2021.

Read more: What's coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here's the latest on 11 leading programs.

CVNCoV is in late-stage clinical trials.

GSK and Curevac said they plan to develop mRNA vaccines to protect against other illnesses that cause breathing problems too.

"With the help of GSK's proven vaccine expertise, we are equipping ourselves to tackle future health challenges with novel vaccines," Franz-Werner Haas, chief executive at CureVac said.

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