CureVac’s COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Disappoints In Preliminary R
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The German company CureVac delivered disappointing preliminary results from a clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine, dimming hopes that it could help fill the world’s great need. The trial, which included 40,000 volunteers estimated that CureVac’s mRNA vaccine had an efficacy of just 47 percent, among the lowest reported so far from any COVID-19 vaccine maker. “We’re going to full speed for the final readout,” Franz-Werner Haas, the chief executive of CureVac, said in an interview. “We are still planning for filing for approval.”

The trial results released June 16 were based on data from 135 volunteers who got sick with COVID-19 . An independent panel compared the number of sick people who had received a placebo with those who had received the vaccine. Although the vaccine did seem to offer some protection, the statistical difference between the two groups was not stark, working out to an efficacy rate of 47 percent.

Annual flu shots, by comparison, can reach 40 to 60 percent effectiveness. Both the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration set a threshold of 50 percent efficacy to consider COVID-19 vaccines for emergency authorization. If CureVac were to stay at 47 percent in the final analysis, it would fail to meet that standard.

The results caught scientists by surprise. The vaccine is made from engineered mRNA, the same technology used by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. And CureVac’s shots yielded promising results in animal experiments and early clinical trials. Out of 124 of the COVID-19 cases that the company’s scientists genetically sequenced, only one was caused by the original version of the coronavirus .

More than half of the cases were caused by variants that have been shown to be more transmissible or able to blunt the effectiveness of vaccines. CureVac’s volunteers were also infected by variants that have yet to be studied carefully. Lambda, which has come to dominate Peru in recent weeks, accounted for 21 percent of the samples. The results should serve as a wake-up call for the threat that new variants can pose to the effectiveness of vaccines.

CureVac is searching for new RNA molecules that can work against many variants at once, as well as combining RNA molecules tailored to different variants in a single dose. Haas also noted that in the preliminary findings, older people appear to get less protection from the vaccine than younger volunteers. “The elderly are not benefiting,” he said. But it isn’t clear if the final results of the trial will allow CureVac to be confident about any difference between the two groups.

Although many vaccine experts had seen promise for CureVac’s shots in much of the unvaccinated world, the new results cloud their outlook. Kirkegaard predicted it would be a challenge for CureVac to compete with another second-wave COVID-19 vaccine, made by Novavax. On Monday, Novavax reported that its vaccine, which doesn’t have to be kept frozen, reached an efficacy of 90 percent in a trial in the United States and Mexico.

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