US biotechnology firm Moderna has announced its coronavirus vaccine is more than 94% effective at preventing the disease.
Interim data from the company suggest its jab is highly effective in preventing people getting ill and also works across all age groups, including the elderly.
British scientists have hailed the news as “tremendously exciting”, although the UK has not yet placed an order for the vaccine – which works in a similar way to Pfizer’s – and will not be able to secure doses until spring 2021 at the earliest.
A government spokesperson said officials are in “advanced discussions” with Moderna about doing so.
Experts say the news bodes well for other Covid-19 vaccines, with the one for Oxford University and UK pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca due to report in the coming days or weeks.
Moderna intends to submit an application for an “emergency use authorisation” with the US Food and Drug Administration shortly and will submit further data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety, it said.
The firm’s final-stage clinical trial is still running, and includes more than 30,000 people in the US.
An interim analysis found 95 of those participants had confirmed cases of Covid-19, of whom 90 had received the placebo and five the active vaccine.
The 95 cases included 15 older adults, aged 65 and over. Twelve were from Hispanic or Latinx backgrounds, four were African American, three were Asian American and one who was mixed-race. The rest were white.
Severe cases of coronavirus were also examined, including 11 severe cases in the first interim analysis.
All 11 cases occurred in the placebo group – none were in the group that had received the vaccine, known currently as mRNA-1273.
Moderna said its available safety data does not indicate any significant safety concerns.
The vaccine was generally safe and well tolerated, and the majority of adverse events were mild or moderate in severity, it said.
Severe events after the first dose included injection site pain. After the second dose they included fatigue, myalgia (muscle pain), arthralgia (joint pain), headache, pain, and redness at the injection site.
But these side-effects were generally short-lived, Moderna said.
The 94.5% efficacy from this analysis could drop as further results from the clinical trial are announced.
Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said: “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.
“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.”
At the end of October, Moderna announced that the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had started the rolling review process of its vaccine.
This means the MHRA will review data as it becomes available from ongoing studies, with the ability at some point to say whether the vaccine should be licensed in the UK.
The announcement comes a week after Pfizer/BioNTech released interim study data suggesting their vaccine, similar to Moderna’s, is more than 90% effective. Russian trials last week also reported that a vaccine candidate was 92% effective, with results set to be peer-reviewed soon.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: “This news from Moderna is tremendously exciting and considerably boosts optimism that we will have a choice of good vaccines in the next few months.
“First we heard 90% efficacy from Pfizer and BioNTech, then the Russians said 92% and now Moderna says 94.5%.
“This latest press release is based on a study of 30,000 US adults, including many high-risk or elderly persons.
“This gives us confidence that the results are relevant in the people who are most at risk of Covid-19 and in most need of the vaccines.
“Moderna have also announced that the vaccine can be kept in a conventional freezer (-20C) for up to six months, and that once thawed the vaccine can be kept for up to 30 days at standard refrigerator (2 to 8C). This makes the vaccine much easier to deliver.”
Conversely, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be held at minus 70C, causing potential problems for transport and storage.
Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “This announcement from Moderna is a further encouragement that vaccines will be found to not only have an acceptable efficacy, but an efficacy that is much greater than we had anticipated.”
Even Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said on Twitter: “I am thrilled to hear the good news coming out of @moderna_tx’s #COVID19 vaccine development programme. Our companies share a common goal – defeating this dreaded disease – and today we congratulate everyone at Moderna and share in the joy of their encouraging results.”
Meanwhile outgoing US President Donald Trump was quick to claim credit for the news, tweeting: ”... please remember that these great discoveries, which will end the China Plague, all took place on my watch!”
Alex Azar, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, seconded the sentiment: “This news is another stunning result of President Trump’s leadership and his unwavering support for #OperationWarpSpeed, an incredible tribute to American scientists and innovators, and one more reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The endorsement comes days after Trump was contradicted when he tried to claim Pfizer was part of his administration’s Operation Warp Speed initiative.
Pfizer opted not to join Operation Warp Speed, risking its own money on vaccine development. Moderna, however, did join the scheme.