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Light at the end of the tunnel in India as Ocugen-partnered COVID-19 vaccine shows efficacy against new variant behind India’s second wave

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  •  India’s Ministry of Health and Welfare recorded 346,786 new COVID-19 cases in the country on Saturday, shattering its own tally of the most number of daily new infections by any country for the second day in a row, and the figures seem to continue rising.
  • India has averaged over 331,000 new infections daily over the past four days in contrast to less than 15,000 cases in early March, according to the  data from Johns Hopkins University.
  • According to experts, a new more transmissible strain with a so-called double-mutation is playing a role in the country’s second wave that has left the country’s healthcare system under severe strain and led to a rising number of COVID-related deaths.
  • The variant with two mutations – the E484Q and L452R – was first detected by an Indian scientist last year, and its prevalence has risen to as many as 52% of blood samples sequenced in April compared to virtually zero in January, India’s Mint newspaper reported citing outbreak.info.
  • The new strain named B.1.617 has now been detected in at least 20 other countries including Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.K., and the U.S.
  • “This is a variant of interest we are following,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead officer on Covid noted last week.
  • “Having two of these mutations, which have been seen in other variants around the world, are concerning,” she added.
  • For COVID-19 vaccine developers, it could be even a bigger concern. India has so far authorized three vaccines: Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech, Covishield, the Indian manufactured COVID-19 vaccine of AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN), and Russia’s Sputnik V.
  • The other COVID-19 vaccine makers, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) are also reportedly in talks with the Indian government seeking emergency approval.
  • However, results from a new study published on bioRxiv indicate that Covaxin can neutralize B.1.617 variant.
  • The researchers have looked for the antibody level capable of neutralizing the B.1. 617 variants in serum samples collected from COVID-19 recovered individuals (n=17).
  • They were infected with variants B.1.1.7 (n=2), B.1.351(n=2), B.1.1.28.2(n=2), and B1 (n=11).
  • The results were then compared with the data collected by using the sera samples of Covaxin recipients.
  • The scientists have noted a similarity in the neutralization capacity against B.1. 617 among vaccinated people and those recovered from COVID-19. The results have not been peer-reviewed yet.
  • Ocugen (NASDAQ:OCGN) has partnered with Bharat Biotech to commercialize Covaxin in the U.S.

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