Valneva COVID vaccine neutralizes omicron in early lab tests

Suzi Ring

French drugmaker Valneva said a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine neutralizes the omicron variant in early lab studies, boosting the prospects of the shot as it seeks regulatory authorization.

Blood from 30 trial participants found that 26 produced neutralizing antibodies against omicron after a booster shot, with all 30 creating antibodies against the delta strain, the company said in a statement Wednesday. Relative to the original strain, neutralization was 2.7-fold lower for delta and 16.7-fold lower for omicron, Valneva said.

A lab technician wearing a full body protection suit opens a bottle containing growth media for virus production at the Valneva laboratories in Vienna on Aug. 6, 2020.

The results are a welcome development for the company after the shot didn't perform as well as peers in a national trial looking at seven vaccines as boosters. It also comes as Valneva expects to get the green light from regulators in Europe and the U.K. this quarter. The company has an order to deliver up to 60 million doses to the European Union. 

An earlier contract worth up to $1.6 billion (1.4 billion euros) with the U.K. government was cancelled last year after the British government said the company had breached its supply deal. 

Shares in the company rose as much as 30% on Thursday, and closed up 20% at 16.54 euros in Paris.  

These results show "ability to address currently circulating variants of concern," Juan Carlos Jaramillo, Valneva's chief medical officer said in a statement. "We continue to believe that VLA2001 could be an important component of the fight against COVID-19."

The Valneva shot uses an inactivated version of the virus to stimulate an immune response. It's the only COVID vaccine using that tried-and-true technology to reach advanced trials in the U.S. and Europe.

The booster data was taken from volunteers who participated in early-stage trials of the vaccine. Their blood was tested against omicron and delta two to four weeks after a third shot and seven or eight months after their second dose of the vaccine.