Researchers in the UK have identified a new SARS-CoV-2 variant with mutations that could allow it to evade immunity-conferring neutralizing antibodies.
Known as B.1.525, the variant was first detected in the UK and Nigeria in December. It’s since been found in 11 other countries, including Denmark, the US, and Australia.
B.1.525 sports a handful of mutations, including one on the spike protein called E484K. This mutation is also found in variants that emerged in South Africa and Brazil and seems to help the virus evade antibodies, The Guardian reports. In addition, B.1.525 has similarities to the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant that also emerged in the UK.
“We don’t yet know how well this [new] variant will spread, but if it is successful it can be presumed that immunity from any vaccine or previous infection will be blunted,” Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading in the UK, tells The Guardian.
Moderna and Pfizer are already working to develop booster shots to give vaccines an edge against the slew of new virus variants. The good news is that because many of the variants share the same mutations, new vaccine versions are likely to confer immunity to multiple versions, according to The Guardian. “This [E484K] change seems to be the key change at the moment to allow escape, so that’s the one you put into the tweaked vaccine,” Jonathan Stoye, a group leader at the Francis Crick Institute, tells the news outlet.
There is no evidence that B.1.525 causes more severe illness or is more transmissible, Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, says in a statement, according to Reuters.