Above: Novavax laboratory scientist - taken by Patrick Seibert
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The UK's vaccination programme received a boost on news of two new vaccines that have proven effective in trials against both the UK and South African variants of the disease.
The prospect of vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax - who over the past 24 hours released phase 3 vaccine trials - will also likely enhance the UK's supply pipeline and in turn provide support for the economy and the British Pound.
Foreign exchange analysts say the UK currency is currently benefiting from a fast vaccine rollout programme relative to other major developed nations.
Novavax, Inc. said its candidate had a 89.3% efficacy against the UK covid-19 variant and pharmaceutical company Janssen - owned by Johnson & Johnson - on Friday announced their single-shot candidate had shown high efficacy, and that submissions for authorisation would now begin.
The UK has ordered 30 million doses of the J&J jab, which has been made available on a non-profit basis, and an adviser to the UK's Vaccine Taskforce says it could be approved and rolled out as soon as February.
The British Pound has rallied in 2021 and is the best-performing major currency at the time of writing, with analysts saying the country's rapid covid-19 vaccine rollout relative to peers is a potential pillar of support.
"We expect the vaccination advantage of the UK to keep driving EUR/GBP lower in the rest of 2021," says Francesco Pesole, FX Strategist with ING.
Above: The Pound is 2021'a best performing major currency.
Supply could however be a major limiting factor to the UK's vaccination programme but the news of two more successful vaccine candidates will shore up confidence that the government's targets can be achieved.
Efficacy against the original covid-19 form by the Novavax candidate was as high as 95.6%, putting it on a par with the mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer. The Novavax candidate is a two-dose shot that works by mimicking a protein called spike, which is found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19.
But a concern amongst medical professionals and investors hoping for a recovery in 2021 was that the UK and South African virus strains could derail the fledgling vaccination programmes that are now underway.
The Covavax vaccine showed "significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants," said Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer of Novavax.
GBP/EUR Forecasts 2021
Period: Full Year 2021
GBP/USD Forecasts 2021
Period: Full Year 2021
With regards to the UK variant, analysis of the trial data showed the UK variant strain, that was increasingly prevalent during the trial, was detected in over 50% of the cases where trial participants in the placebo group caught the virus.
Based on PCR performed on strains from 56 of the 62 cases, efficacy by strain was calculated to be 95.6% against the original COVID-19 strain and 85.6% against the UK variant strain.
The results of the Novavax trial in South Africa showed a 60% efficacy rate for the prevention of mild, moderate and severe COVID-19.
"This is the first COVID-19 vaccine for which we now have objective evidence that it protects against the variant dominating in South Africa,” says Professor Shabir Maddi, Executive Director of the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA) at Wits University.
By contrast, the level of protection offered by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection was 57% in South Africa, 28 days post-vaccination.
UK has deal for 30 million doses of the J&J candidate, with the option of ordering 22 million more
"My prediction is that it'll work well, although we need to wait for the trial results," he told The Telegraph. "I think they will have supplies available for the UK in a time frame that would allow it just to catch the mid-February target of getting the numbers up," said Sir John Bell, regius professor at Oxford University and an adviser to the UK's Vaccine Taskforce.
"I think it may well have a material impact on what we can do in the UK to get more people vaccinated," he told The Telegraph on January 06. "I think they will have supplies available for the UK in a time frame that would allow it just to catch the mid-February target of getting the numbers up."
Novavax has meanwhile already initiated a rolling submission to the UK's vaccine regulatory agency, the MHRA, commencing in mid-January.
This will allow the MHRA to come to a conclusion on whether or not to grant emergency use of the vaccine in a much timelier manner than would typically be the case.
The vaccine is stable at 2°C to 8°C (refrigerated) and is shipped in a ready-to-use liquid formulation that permits distribution using existing vaccine supply chain channels, suggesting a rapid rollout of the vaccine if approved.
Image courtesy of Science Magazine
The company will manufacture the vaccine at a plant in the UK owing to investments made by the UK government, providing a potential buffer to any spats that might emerge with Europe in light of the continent's slow vaccine rollout that on Friday culminated in the implementation of controls on vaccine exports to the UK.
Novavax is however currently simply too small an outfit to manufacture the vaccine on its own and will therefore rely on a Fujifilm plant in Teeside to rollout the UK's 60 million order.
The positive trial results mark an astonishing turnaround for Novavax which in 2019 was facing a delisting by the NASDAQ stock index following the failure of a second failed vaccine trial in less than 3 years.
In order to conserve cash, the company sold its two Maryland manufacturing facilities, slicing its payroll by more than 100 employees and by January 2020, it employed only 166 people by this time according to the magazine Science.
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About the Novavax Vaccine
The Novavax vaccine will be the first version of a protein based vaccine being deployed against the covid-19 pandemic, if approved.
Science Magazine explains:
"Developers of protein vaccines must develop their own version of the spike protein - one that closely mimics the naturally occurring spike and is stable enough to retain its immunological punch during manufacturing, packaging, and distribution.
"Most such vaccines include an additional compound called an adjuvant to help stimulate a strong, protective immune response. Those extra steps make protein vaccines slower to develop than those that deliver genetic instructions.
"Protein-based vaccines also have a long track record of effectiveness, in contrast with the newer, largely unproven approaches."