The announcement came even as it said its first vaccine should protect against the variant. Stock value soared about 10% as markets opened in the US.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said his company was confident its vaccine should be protective against “these newly detected variants” but he added: “Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective… against this and potentially future variants.”
Laboratory tests show Moderna’s COVID-19 jab works against the variant named 501. V2, which emerged in South Africa, and B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in the UK.
But, according to an FT report, Moderna said the current jab may be was less effective in tackling the South African strain, and warned that the neutralising antibody response to 501. V2 “was sixfold lower than to the original variant, raising concerns that immunity to it may wane significantly, particularly in older people.”
Bancel told the FT the company was preparing for a “worst-case scenario,” even though he had “zero concerns” about the vaccine’s efficacy in the coming months.
READ MORE: UK approves Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine
Moderna is the first vaccine maker to announce a trial for a booster against a new variant. The booster would be given to people who had already received the Moderna vaccine.
The two-dose regimen of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at the 100 microgram dose is expected to be protective against emerging strains detected to date, Moderna has said. But it said it wants to “proactively address the pandemic as the virus continues to evolve.”
The UK has identified 77 cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa, health secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC. He said cases are linked to travellers arriving in the UK.
The BBC said ministers will discuss this week the possibility of imposing stricter restrictions on people arriving from abroad.
Earlier this month, UK regulators have approved Moderna’s (MRNA) COVID-19 vaccine for use, making it the third jab to be rubber stamped by Britain, after Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech’s (BNTX) jointly developed vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine.
Moderna’s vaccine was shown to be 94% effective against COVID-19 in trials. The UK government has already ordered 17 million doses of the vaccine. In November, the government said 7 million doses would be ready for deployment as early as Spring 2021.
Watch: Debunking vaccine myths