EU watchdog urges vaccine developers not to focus only on Omicron

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Vials labelled "VACCINE Coronavirus COVID-19" and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed EU flag in this illustration taken December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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  • Pharma groups have been working on upgraded Omicron vaccines
  • BioNTech CEO has questioned merit of multipurpose shot

Jan 18 (Reuters) - The European Union drugs regulator said pharmaceuticals companies should work on more than one upgraded COVID-19 shot, not only tailored to the fast-emerging Omicron variant but also versions that address a combination of variants.

"What we are hearing from other regulatory agencies also is that it is important not to exclude any options," the European Medicines Agency's head of vaccines strategy, Marco Cavaleri, told a media briefing on Tuesday.

Vaccine makers working on a redesign of their established shots to address Omicron, which is crowding out the Delta variant in many regions of the world, include BioNTech-Pfizer (PFE.N), Moderna (MRNA.O) and the alliance between AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Oxford University.

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BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin last week questioned the need to develop products tailored to more than just Omicron because immunity against Omicron has been shown to be likely to confer protection against preceding virus variants.

"Omicron infection and an Omicron vaccine will most likely, with a high probability, also boost immune responses against all existing variants," Sahin had said in an analyst call as part of J.P.Morgan's virtual healthcare conference.

"What is the value if we now combine a potential Omicron vaccine with another variant as the Omicron vaccine alone would most likely do the job?" he added.

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Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Pushkala Aripaka Editing by Catherine Evans and David Goodman

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