Big Pharma’s plans for Omicron South African Strain. Another SARS-2 mutation as Forecast by Virologists due to likely Vaccine-Resistance
On the cove an electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, isolated from a patient in the US (NIAID-RML handout)
by Russia Today
The World Health Organization (WHO) convened an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the viral strain, which had previously been known as B.1.1.529, declaring it a “variant of concern” while giving it the new name of “Omicron.”
“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other strains,” the agency concluded. While little is yet known about Omicron, the WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan noted that it carried “a number of worrying mutations” that could make the strain more infectious than any observed before.
Omicron already crossed continents with dozens of ‘worrying mutations’
The large number of mutations have also prompted fears that Omicron could be resistant to existing vaccines and therapeutics, especially as currently available immunizations have been seen to lose effectiveness over time against other known variants of concern.
One major determining factor in the transmissibility of the virus is the evolution of its “spike proteins” – microscopic protrusions that allow the coronavirus to access and hijack host cells, causing infection. A strain detected in South Africa in May 2020 and dubbed ‘Beta,’ for example, had three significant mutations in its spike region, which helped make it between 20 and 30% more infectious. Omicron, on the other hand, is thought to have at least 32 spike mutations.
The first cases of Omicron were identified in the African nation of Botswana on November 11, with additional infections detected in South Africa just days later. Since then, Omicron is believed to now make up 90% of new infections in South Africa’s Gauteng region, according to local epidemiologists.
Hong Kong registered its first Omicron case on Thursday, while Israel reported an infection from a traveler returning from Malawi on Friday and is now monitoring two other suspected patients, suggesting the strain is quickly spreading far beyond southern Africa where it was first spotted.
Belgium became the first European nation to detect the strain within its borders on Friday. The discovery set off alarms across the continent and beyond, with the UK’s Health Security Agency deeming Omicron “the worst variant we have seen so far.”
As news of the strain dominated headlines for much of Friday, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic, among other European countries, declared new travel bans. Russia has also joined the fast-growing list of countries to bring new travel bans, along with the United States, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Brazil and Bahrain.
Even though the WHO warned against “acting too hastily” with travel bans, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, called to suspend all air travel to and from countries with reported cases of the new variant until officials have a better understanding of the strain.
Originally published by Russia Today
A number of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms have announced strategies to address the newly identified Covid-19 variant, dubbed Omicron, including plans to alter existing vaccines and develop new boosters.
With the World Health Organization (WHO) designating Omicron the latest “variant of concern” following an emergency meeting on Friday, warning that the highly mutated strain could be more infectious than those seen before, Big Pharma quickly launched into PR-mode, as several firms rushed to outline how they would combat the new variant.
Pfizer – which has produced one of the world’s most commonly used Covid immunizations alongside its German partner BioNTech – told Fox Business that it is “remaining vigilant” and “constantly” monitoring new variants that could “potentially escape protection” from its vaccine.
“In the event that [a] vaccine-escape variant emerges, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval,” the company added, though it did not say whether any specific research had been conducted into Omicron so far.
BioNTech, in a separate statement, noted that Omicron “differs significantly from previously observed variants as it has additional mutations located in the spike protein,” referring to the mechanism by which the coronavirus gains access to host cells and causes infection. The company also said that a so-called “escape variant” could “require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.”
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, two other major Covid vaccine developers, issued similar missives on Friday, with the latter company stating that it’s already testing a booster shot for healthy adults that contains twice the vaccine dosage than what is currently approved. Moderna also said that it is now studying two booster candidates specially designed to “anticipate mutations such as those that have emerged in the Omicron variant.”
J&J, whose single-dose vaccine differs from the others on the market, also told Fox that it is testing its Janssen immunization efficacy against Omicron and “closely monitoring”mutations in the virus’ spike protein.
“It’s very important to investigate the new variant,” acknowledged Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which bankrolled the development of the Sputnik V vaccine, in an interview with RT on Friday. If it turns out that the strain is resistant to current vaccines, he voiced confidence that Russian scientists could “really quickly adapt Sputnik V to the new variant.”
Following a meeting with Chinese researchers to discuss the possibility of combined immunizations, Dmitriev also called for deeper international cooperation in creating a diversified portfolio of vaccines for combating more dangerous strains.
The WHO’s designation of Omicron, also known as the B.1.1.529 variant, triggered a near-global panic on Friday, including travel restrictions in countries across several continents and tanking stock markets around the world. Despite the alarm, however, little is yet known about the new strain – nor whether it is more transmissible or deadly compared to other variants – and the WHO has stated it may take several weeks of research to begin answering those questions.
Originally published by Russia Today
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