Neck and neck with Pfizer, Moderna gives first dose of omicron-specific booster in phase 2 trial

The race to develop an omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine is in full swing. One day after Pfizer and BioNTech disclosed the start of their study, Moderna revealed it has dosed the first participant in a phase 2 trial that will study its omicron-specific booster candidate.

Moderna is enrolling two cohorts of participants in the study. Cohort one covers people who received the second of their two doses of Moderna’s Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago. Cohort two is enrolling people who received a half-dose Spikevax booster, on top of their two primary shots of the Moderna vaccine, at least three months ago. Each cohort will enroll around 300 people.

The trial will give Moderna data on the immunogenicity, safety and reactogenicity of its omicron-specific booster mRNA-1273.529. Whether that leads to the real-world use of an omicron-specific booster is less clear.

Talking to investors earlier this month, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said the goal is to protect as many people as possible for the fall of 2022. How Moderna achieves that goal remains to be seen, with Bancel saying the company’s R&D activities mean “all the options” are on the table.

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“We could keep making the current vaccine and make it available at a much larger manufacturing scale,” Bancel said. “We could have an omicron-specific vaccine. We also would have a multivalent combining several components. We've tried in the clinic the alpha variant. We tried the delta variant. We tried the beta variant. And so we have all those components ready.”

The past two years suggest a vaccine designed to protect against alpha, beta, delta and omicron could still be outmaneuvered by a future variant, leading some researchers to consider ways to create products that work against all forms of SARS-CoV-2 and potentially other similar coronaviruses.