Germany's BioNTech, Pfizer's partner in COVID-19 vaccines, said on Wednesday (Jun 29) the two companies would start tests on humans of next-generation shots that protect against a wide variety of coronaviruses in the second half of the year.
Their experimental work on shots that go beyond the current approach include T-cell-enhancing shots, designed to primarily protect against severe disease if the virus becomes more dangerous, and pan-coronavirus shots that protect against the broader family of viruses and its mutations.
In presentation slides posted on BioNTech's website for its investor day, the German biotech firm said its aim was to "provide durable variant protection".
The two partners, makers of the Western world's most widely used COVID-19 shot, are currently discussing with regulators enhanced versions of their established shot to better protect against the Omicron variant and its sublineages.
The virus' persistent mutation into new variants that more easily evade vaccine protection, as well as waning human immune memory, have added urgency to the search by companies, governments and health bodies for more reliable tools of protection.
As part of a push to further boost its infectious disease business, BioNTech said it was independently working on precision antibiotics that kill superbugs that have grown resistant to currently available anti-infectives.
BioNTech, which did not say when trials could begin, is leaning on the technology of PhagoMed, which it acquired in October last year.
The Vienna-based antibiotics developer has done work on enzymes, made by bacteria-killing viruses, that break through the bacterial cell wall.
Drug-resistant infections are on the rise, driven by antibiotic overuse and leaks into the environment in antibiotics production.
Public health researchers put the combined number of people dying per year from antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States and the European Union at close to 70,000.