New York: US-based biotechnology giant Moderna announced on Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be 94.5 per cent effective in preventing the deadly disease, bringing a glimmer of hope to a world ravaged by the pandemic.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna's announcement comes just a week after Pfizer and Biontech said their COVID-19 vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants.
"This is a pivotal moment in the development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible. All along, we have known that each day matters," said Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna.
"This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease, Bancel said as the pandemic has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, more than 245,000 of them in the US.
"The independent, NIH-appointed Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) for the Phase 3 study of mRNA-1273, its vaccine candidate against COVID-19, has informed Moderna that the trial has met the statistical criteria pre-specified in the study protocol for efficacy, with a vaccine efficacy of 94.5 per cent," Moderna said in a statement.
This study, known as the COVE study, enrolled more than 30,000 participants in the US, it added.
Based on these interim safety and efficacy data, Moderna intends to submit for an Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) with the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) in the coming weeks and anticipates having the EUA informed by the final safety and efficacy data.
Moderna also plans to submit applications for authorisations to global regulatory agencies.
Bancel said the company is looking forward to the next milestones of submitting for an emergency use authorisation in the US, and regulatory filings in countries around the world, "while we continue to collect data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in the COVE study. We remain committed to and focused on doing our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the end of 2020, the company expects to have approximately 20 million doses of mRNA-1273 ready to ship in the US. The Company remains on track to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021.
The announcements about the vaccines and their potential availability for use among the general population in the coming weeks and months has offered hope to millions around the world in a year that has seen the COVID-19 pandemic devastate lives and economies and still showing no signs of abating.
So far the coronavirus has infected more than 54 million people around the world even as governments implemented strict lockdowns and restrictions to slow the spread of the virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
A second wave of infections is threatening to derail economies and impact lives again as countries have gradually begun to ease restrictions and open up.
While the two vaccines appear to have very similar safety and efficacy profiles, Moderna's vaccine has a significant practical advantage over Pfizer's, CNN reported.
Pfizer's vaccine has to be kept at minus 75 degrees Celsius. No other vaccine in the US needs to be kept that cold, and doctors' offices and pharmacies do not have freezers that go that low.
Moderna's vaccine can be kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius. Other vaccines, such as the one against chickenpox, need to be kept at that temperature.
That means Moderna's vaccine can be kept in "a readily available freezer that is available in most doctors' offices and pharmacies," said Dr Tal Zacks, Moderna's chief medical officer.
"We leverage infrastructure that already exists for other marketed vaccines."
Another advantage of Moderna's vaccine is that it can be kept for 30 days in the refrigerator, the company announced on Monday. Pfizer's vaccine can last only five days in the refrigerator, CNN reported.
The primary endpoint of the Phase 3 COVE study is based on the analysis of COVID-19 cases confirmed and adjudicated starting two weeks following the second dose of vaccine.
This first interim analysis was based on 95 cases, of which 90 cases of COVID-19 were observed in the placebo group versus 5 cases observed in the mRNA-1273 group, resulting in a point estimate of vaccine efficacy of 94.5% (p <0.0001), it said.
A secondary endpoint analysed severe cases of COVID-19 and included 11 severe cases. The 95 COVID-19 cases included 15 older adults (ages 65+) and 20 participants identifying as being from diverse communities (including 12 Hispanic or LatinX, 4 Black or African Americans, 3 Asian Americans and 1 multiracial).
A review of solicited adverse effects indicated that the vaccine was generally well tolerated. Volunteers reported mild to moderate side-effects, including pain at injection site pain, fatigue, headache and redness at the injection site. These adverse events were generally short-lived, the company said.
Moderna is working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Operation Warp Speed and McKesson, a COVID-19 vaccine distributor contracted by the US government, as well as global stakeholders to be prepared for distribution of mRNA-1273, in the event that it receives an EUA and similar global authorisations.
If the USFDA allows emergency use of Moderna's or Pfizer's candidates, there will be limited, rationed supplies in the US before the end of the year, the AP reported. Both require people to get two shots, several weeks apart.
"These are obviously very exciting results," said Dr Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease doctor. "It's just as good as it gets -- 94.5% is truly outstanding," CNN quoted him as saying.
Vaccinations could begin in the second half of December, Fauci said. Vaccinations are expected to begin with high-risk groups and to be available for the rest of the population next spring.
The vaccines are among 11 candidates in late-stage testing around the world, including four in the US.
The Sputnik V vaccine, developed in Russia, has also released very early data which suggests it is 92 per cent effective.