Over the past few weeks there have been many media reports about the ability of current COVID-19 vaccines to protect against the Omicron virus variant. While many presented reasonable information, there was also significant panic peddling. Some of this latter activity seemed to involve attracting attention to a media outlet or “influencer,” however, there also may have been other reasons for stoking peoples’ fears.
Last week I quoted a scientist, Tillman Gerngross, who alarmingly alerted to a “grim situation” due to decreased vaccine efficacy vs. omicron.
Dr. Gerngross is a Dartmouth Professor, but he is also CEO of a biotech company Adagio. Adagio has no current products, but is developing a monoclonal antibody as a therapy for COVID 19. Based on this one concept, his company was valued at $2 billion and had raised $750 million dollars simply to develop this antibody.
Obviously, this product would be more valuable if there were no effective vaccine for Omicron. In fact, playing on this concept, his company put out a press release on November 29th that indicated that their antibody would work with Omicron. Then on this past Tuesday they release a very different press release.
Dr. Gerngross either did not understand his product or was blinded by his company’s valuation. Monoclonal antibodies, like the one that Dr. Gerngross was developing, bind to only one place on the virus protein. So it is all or nothing whether it works to control the virus.
Unfortunately for Gerngross, Tuesday’s announcement indicates that testing shows his antibody does not work with Omicron. The one site where his antibody bound to the virus was not present in Omicron!
The company’s stock has lost 90% of its value in the past day, which seems conservative since this was the only product in development.
There is, however, good news for all of us on Omicron- Vaccines induce immunity to multiple parts of the spike virus protein so a single mutation won’t inactivate virus protection. This “multiple shots on goal” fortunately means the current vaccines still are 70% plus effective in preventing hospitalizations from the highly mutated Omicron.
So cheer up Dr. Gerngoss. You can still get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and be protected against Omicron COVID-19!