Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline said on Wednesday it will work with a German biopharmaceutical company to develop new vaccines targeting emerging variants of COVID-19 amid concerns that some mutations are making the virus more difficult to fight.
GSK plans to invest 150 million euros ($ 181 million) to support research by Germany-based CureVac in Tubingen, which is developing vaccines that use messenger RNA to attack the disease. GSK also said it will help prepare up to 100 million doses of the company’s existing COVID-19 candidate vaccine this year.
“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the effectiveness of first-generation COVID-19 vaccines requires accelerating efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to stay one step ahead of the pandemic,” the companies said in a statement.
The announcement comes at a time when public health officials around the world raise concerns about new virus variants that are more contagious or resistant to existing vaccines. Although viruses mutate constantly, most changes are of little concern. But scientists are watching these mutations closely to ensure they quickly identify the worrying variants.
English authorities are conducting coronavirus tests from house to house in target communities in an attempt to eliminate a new variant before it spreads widely and undermines a national vaccination program.
British authorities want to test some 80,000 people in eight areas where the variant, first identified in South Africa, is believed to be spreading after a handful of cases have been found in people who have had no contact with the country or any person who traveled there.
Public health officials are concerned about the variant first identified in South Africa, because it contains a mutation of the virus’s peak protein, driven by existing vaccines. The mutation may mean that vaccines offer less protection against the variant.
“We believe that next generation vaccines will be crucial in the ongoing fight against COVID-19,” said GSK Chief Executive Emma Walmsley in a statement. “This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together we will combine our scientific experience in mRNA and vaccine development to advance and accelerate the development of new COVID-19 candidate vaccines.”
In its annual earnings published on Wednesday, GSK said it expects further disruptions to its vaccine business during the first half of the year, given the government’s prioritization of COVID-19 vaccination programs and the resurgence of the pandemic in late 2020. .
He said this should affect immunizations for adults and teenagers, including Shingrix against shingles, mainly in the U.S. Despite this, a recovery is expected in the second half of the year and that vaccine revenues in 2021 will either stagnate or grow slightly.
Overall, GSK saw sales in 2020 increase 1% to 34.1 billion pounds ($ 46 billion) and net profit increase 21% to 6.4 billion pounds ($ 9.6 billion).