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Novavax (NVAX) Starts Developing Omicron-Specific COVID Jab

Novavax, Inc. NVAX has announced a two-pronged variant strategy to provide protection against the new COVID-19 variant of concern (VOC), Omicron (B.1.1.529).

Firstly, Novavax started evaluating its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine NVX-CoV2373 against the Omicron variant. NVX-CoV2373 already demonstrated efficacy and safety against other VOCs like Alpha, Beta and Delta. NVAX plans to evaluate whether a similar cross-protection is provided by NVX-CoV2373 against the Omicron variant.

Novavax also intends to test whether the antibodies from the previously-vaccinated individuals can neutralize the Omicron variant and block the Omicron-hACE2 receptor binding (a step, which is required in the viral invasion process).

Secondly, Novavax started developing an Omicron-specific construct of the spike-protein antigen used in its COVID-19 vaccine. NVAX aims to begin manufacturing this Omicron-specific spike protein in a commercial facility in January 2022.

Shares of Novavax have rallied 45.3% this year so far against the industry’s 18.1% decline.

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Novavax is yet to apply to the FDA for an emergency use authorization (EUA) of the vaccine. It anticipates filing the same in fourth-quarter 2021. Presently, the vaccine received the EUA in Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Omicron variant is raising concerns of high transmissibility and lower protection against infections following vaccination due to the presence of multiple mutations. In fact, some of the mutations — also reported in the Beta and Delta variants — are likely to help avoid natural and vaccine-induced immunity.

The potential high risks of this latest variant prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to add Omicron to its “Variant of Concern” list on Nov 26,

The Omicron variant ignited fears that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines and treatments could be less effective against it. Other vaccine makers like Moderna MRNA and J&J JNJ also announced their strategies to develop updated vaccines and boosters to respond to this variant.

Moderna already tested a 100-microgram booster dose compared to its authorized booster dose of 50-microgram of its COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273. The higher dose of its booster dose resulted in the highest neutralizing titers against prior SARS-CoV-2 strains.

Moderna is now rapidly testing sera from the participants of high-dose booster studies to see if the dose provides neutralizing protection against Omicron. MRNA is also testing its two other existing multi-valent booster candidates against the Omicron variant. MRNA is planning to develop an Omicron-specific booster candidate.

J&J is testing the effectiveness of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine against the Omicron variant. JNJ is testing the blood serum from participants of both completed and ongoing booster studies for neutralizing activity against the Omicron variant.

J&J is also pursuing a new vaccine against Omicron, which will be pushed rapidly to clinical development, if needed.

The spread of the Omicron variant will likely decelerate the economic revival as several countries already started imposing travel bans. Although the variant was first reported in South Africa, it is spreading speedily across multiple nations. Successful development of a COVID-19 vaccine targeting the Omicron variant will boost any of the above companies’ prospects further.

Zacks Rank & Stock to Consider

Novavax currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). A better-ranked stock in the overall healthcare sector is GlaxoSmithKline GSK, which presently has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

GlaxoSmithKline’s earnings estimates per share for 2021 have increased from $2.94 to $3.06 in the past 30 days. The same for 2022 has increased from $3.17 to $3.26 in the past 30 days. Shares of Glaxo have risen 12.7% in the year so far.

Earnings of GlaxoSmithKline beat estimates in three of the last four quarters and missed expectations in one, the average surprise being 15.3%.

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