Moderna trial success gives world more hope in race to end pandemic

By Julie Steenhuysen, Michael Erman,

(Reuters) – Moderna Inc’s experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage trial, the company said on Monday, becoming the second U.S. drugmaker to report results that far exceed expectations.

Together with Pfizer Inc’s vaccine, which is also more than 90% effective, and pending more safety data and regulatory review, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December with as many as 60 million doses of vaccine available this year.

Next year, the U.S. government could have access to more than 1 billion doses just from the two vaccine makers, more than needed for the country’s 330 million residents.

The vaccines, both developed with new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), represent powerful tools to fight a pandemic that has infected 54 million people worldwide and killed 1.3 million. The news also comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are soaring, hitting new records in the United States and pushing some European countries back into lockdowns.

“We are going to have a vaccine that can stop COVID-19,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in a telephone interview.

Moderna’s interim analysis was based on 95 infections among trial participants who received either a placebo or the vaccine. Of those, only five infections occurred in those who received the vaccine, which is administered in two shots 28 days apart.

“Having more than one source of an effective vaccine will increase the global supply and, with luck, help us all to get back to something like normal sometime in 2021,” said Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh.

Moderna expects to have enough safety data required for U.S. authorization in the next week or so and the company expects to file for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the coming weeks.

The company’s shares, which have more than quadrupled this year, rose 9.1% in premarket trading while European stocks and Wall Street stock futures jumped on the vaccine update. The benchmark S&P 500 futures rose 1.3%, stopping just short of a new record high, while the pan-European STOXX 600 hit late-February highs.

Shares in Pfizer were down 1% in premarket trading.

SEVERE CASES
A key advantage of Moderna’s vaccine is that it does not need ultra-cold storage like Pfizer’s, making it easier to distribute. Moderna expects it to be stable at normal fridge temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 48°F) for 30 days and it can be stored for up to 6 months at -20C.

Pfizer’s vaccine must be shipped and stored at -70C, the sort of temperature typical of an Antarctic winter. It can be stored for up to five days at standard refrigerator temperatures or for up to 15 days in a thermal shipping box.

Main Photo: Vials with a sticker reading “COVID-19/Coronavirus vaccine/Injection only” and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed Moderna logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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