LONDON (Reuters) -AstraZeneca said on Friday it was examining the impact of a new coronavirus variant that is spreading rapidly in South Africa on its vaccine and its antibody cocktail, adding it was hopeful its combination drug would retain efficacy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated a new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, detected in South Africa with a large number of mutations, as being "of concern".
AstraZeneca has distributed 2 billion doses of its vaccine worldwide, although rollout of the shot was paused in South Africa in February after it was shown to offer minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the Beta variant, which was dominant in the country at the time.
"As with any new emerging variants, we are looking into B.1.1.529 to understand more about it and the impact on the vaccine," AstraZeneca said in a statement, adding it was conducting research in Botswana and Eswatini to collect data.
"That will enable us to collect real world data of Vaxzevria against this new virus variant."
The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm emphasised that the vaccine has been shown to be effective against all SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.
AstraZeneca said that it had developed a vaccine platform to respond quickly to new variants with Oxford University, where the vaccine was created. It has previously said it is working on a variant vaccine to better target the Beta variant.
The company has also developed an antibody cocktail which can be used both to prevent and to treat COVID-19.
Although some scientists have expressed concern that the spike protein mutations might hinder the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody drugs, the combination drug made by AstraZeneca might retain its efficacy, the company said.
"We are also testing our long-acting antibody combination AZD7442 against this new variant and are hopeful AZD7442 will retain efficacy since it comprises two potent antibodies with different and complementary activities against the virus," it said.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Elaine Hardcastle)