Moderna said Monday its Covid-19 booster does appear to provide protection against omicron, but the drug company will still be developing a new shot specific to the variant currently surging across the world.
In an announcement early Monday, Moderna said preliminary data from lab testing found the version of its booster currently in use in the United States and elsewhere provided increased antibody levels to neutralize the virus. But it also found that a double dose of the booster shot provided a much greater increase in those levels.
The news is the latest sign that booster shots are an effective way to protect against the new variant, which has driven a rapid increases in case numbers since first emerging last month.
The drug company said its currently FDA-approved 50ug booster was found to increase neutralizing antibody levels against omicron 37-fold compared to pre-boost levels. Meanwhile, it found that a 100ug booster dose gave an 83-fold increase in neutralizing antibody levels.
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The company said it would still be working to develop an omicron-specific booster, however, with the shot expected to advance into clinical trials in early 2022.
In a statement, Moderna chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel said the company's findings should come as "reassuring" news.
"The dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases from the omicron variant is concerning to all. However, these data...are reassuring," Bancel said.
Still, he said: "To respond to this highly transmissible variant, Moderna will continue to rapidly advance an omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future."
"We will also continue to generate and share data across our booster strategies with public health authorities to help them make evidence-based decisions on the best vaccination strategies against SARS-CoV-2," he said, using an alternate name for the Covid virus.
The drug company tested several different boosters at different doses, some of which are still in clinical trials.
It said that safety data from a Phase 2/3 study of the 100ug booster dose suggested that it was "generally safe and well-tolerated."
It said the frequency and nature of adverse events were generally comparable to those seen after its primary two-dose series of shots but that there appeared to be a trend toward slightly more frequent adverse reactions following the higher dose relative to the authorized 50ug dose.
Moderna's news comes nearly two weeks after the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 booster shot was found to provide strong protection against the omicron variant earlier this month.
The two companies said studies found that the new variant was more adept at sidestepping immune protection provided by existing vaccines than previous strains.
However, they said the full extent of the variant's ability to dodge the body's defenses was still unclear. Uncertainty also persists about the relationship between omicron and severe illness.
Pfizer and BioNTech are also in the process of testing a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine in an ongoing trial of children ages 6 months to under 5 years after the companies found two doses did not appear to generate a strong enough immune response in some children.