BioNTech says vaccine ‘neutralises key mutation’ in UK, South Africa strains

German company BioNTech said Friday a preliminary study shows that its vaccine works against a key mutation in coronavirus variants uncovered in Britain and South Africa which experts have said is more contagious than normal coronavirus strains.

Tests have shown that “antibodies from people who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine effectively neutralise SARS-CoV-2 with a key mutation that is also found in two highly transmissible strains,” said the German company of the vaccine it developed with US group Pfizer.

The B117 coronavirus, which emerged in southeast Britain late last year, has shown to be significantly more contagious — between 40-70 per cent — than normal variants of the virus.

Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, which is being rolled out around the world, relies on the body’s production of a particular part of the virus — the spike protein — which the immune system then learns to kill.

Because the mutation in the British variant and another South African variant directly affects the virus’ spike protein, there had been fears that it would render the vaccine ineffective against the mutant versions.

But BioNTech said the research carried out by Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch “indicates that the key N501Y mutation, which is found in the emerging UK and South Africa variants, does not create resistance to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine induced immune responses”. 

Authors of the study itself said however the findings were limited as the mutated variant tested “does not include the full set of spike mutations found on the rapidly spreading strains in the UK or South Africa.”

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