AMSTERDAM, June 13 (Reuters) – AstraZeneca is in talks with Japan, Russia, Brazil and China about supply deals for its potential COVID-19 vaccine, its chief said on Saturday, as the British drugmaker prepares to publish the results of the first phase of tests.
The British drugs regulator has approved the start of Phase III of its tests on the vaccine after studies showed sufficient efficacy and safety, Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said on a call with reporters. (Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Writing by Josephine Mason; Editing by Louise Heavens)
ROME (Reuters) – AstraZeneca Plc has signed a contract with European governments to supply the region with its potential vaccine against the coronavirus, the British drugmaker’s latest deal to pledge its drug to help combat the pandemic.
FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labeled with a “Vaccine COVID-19” sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
The contract is for up to 400 million doses of the vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford, the company said on Saturday, adding that it was looking to expand manufacturing of the vaccine, which it said it would provide for no profit during the pandemic.
Deliveries will start by the end of 2020.
The deal is the first contract signed by Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA), a group formed by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands to secure vaccine doses for all member states as soon as possible.
“This will ensure that hundreds of millions of people in Europe will have access to this vaccine, of course if it works and we will know that by the end of summer,” the company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot told journalists. He said he has “good hope” that it will work, based on initial data.
The alliance “will work together with the European Commission and other countries in Europe to ensure everybody across Europe is supplied with the vaccine,” he said.
“We have a very self-sufficient supply chain for Europe” with manufacturers lined up in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Italy, among others, he said.
The vaccines are for all EU member states. The four nations that agreed the deal will pay for the total amount, which has not been disclosed, and the scheme allows other countries to join it under the same conditions, a source from the Italian health ministry said.
China, Brazil, Japan and Russia have also expressed interest, he said.
The British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved the start of Phase III trials of the vaccine after studies showed sufficient efficacy and safety, Soriot said.
At a meeting of EU Health Ministers on Friday, IVA agreed to merge its activities with those of the EU Commission, Germany’s Health Ministry said.
The deal is the latest by AstraZeneca to promise to supply its vaccine to governments who have scrambled to agree advance purchases of promising coronavirus immunisation treatments.
It has agreed manufacturing deals globally to meet its target of producing 2 billion doses of the vaccine, including with two Bill Gates-backed ventures and a $1.2 billion agreement with the U.S. government.
The deal will add a further 100 million doses to the 2 billion already committed by the group, AstraZeneca said.
There are no approved vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Many countries in the world have already secured vaccines, Europe has not yet. The rapid coordinated action of a group of member states will create added value for all EU citizens in this crisis,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.
Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte in Rome and Rama Venkat in Bangalore; additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Ludwig Burger; writing by Giulia Segreti; editing by David Holmes and Louise Heavens
Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is aiming to produce 2 billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine, including 400 million for the U.S. and U.K. and 1 billion for those in low- and middle-income countries.
It plans to start distributing the vaccine to the U.S. and U.K. in September or October, with the balance of deliveries likely to be made by early 2021, according to AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, on a call with journalists Thursday.
AstraZeneca said it had signed a licensing deal with the Serum Institute of India to provide 1 billion doses to low- and middle-income countries, with 400 million of those shots set to be delivered by the end of 2020, according to a press release Thursday.
The vaccine, named AZD1222, was originally developed by Oxford University in the U.K. and AstraZeneca is working with pharmaceutical industry partners to manufacture and distribute the drug.
Soriot said the distribution was dependent on clinical trials taking place by August. Clinical trials and manufacturing are set to occur concurrently, which is an unprecedented move for the pharmaceutical industry because of the risk of producing a drug that might not work.
“We are very focused and very committed. When you have something like this with this sort of pandemic and the tremendous impact it has on people, the economy, et cetera, you can’t second-guess what’s going to happen. You can’t spend your time figuring out is it going to work or not going to work, you just have to commit. … We come in and make a bet on some of these things,” Soriot said on the call.
Oxford University’s Jenner Institute has worked with the Oxford Vaccine Group to develop the AZD1222 vaccine that includes a protein of the SARS CoV-2 virus strain, which causes the coronavirus disease known as Covid-19. It is currently testing the drug in around 10,000 adult volunteers. So far it has been “safe and well-tolerated,” according to AstraZeneca’s press release.
Asked whether the vaccine will work, Soriot said, “The chance of the vaccine working I would say we all have very good hope, from what we’ve seen so far,” adding that the company is creating a comprehensive database of safety information and expects to eventually have clinical trials with more than 50,000 volunteers taking part.
Trials are running concurrently with manufacturing to make the vaccine available as early as possible, according to Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is working with AstraZeneca on the drug’s production. “Obviously, if the vaccine is successful, placing that early bet on the manufacturing gives a huge payoff because you end up with tens or even hundreds of millions of doses that become available at the earliest possible moment,” he said on the call with journalists Thursday.
“We believe we can get the vaccine to hundreds of millions of people around the world, importantly, including those in the countries with the lowest income. So our goal is really to not leave anybody behind,” Soriot said.
On Thursday, governments and businesses said they would give $8.8 billion to a vaccine alliance known as Gavi, which is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation and the World Health Organization have created a mechanism known as the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator to make sure the vaccine is distributed fairly.
AstraZeneca has received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Health Department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop a coronavirus vaccine from the University of Oxford.
The British-Swedish drugmaker has agreed to initially supply at least 400 million doses of the vaccine and secured total manufacturing capacity to produce 1 billion doses, with first deliveries in September.
AstraZeneca’s development program of the vaccine includes a phase three clinical trial with 30,000 participants and a pediatric trial.
Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, said the drugmaker would do everything in its power to make the vaccine “quickly and widely available.”
The coronavirus has now infected over 5 million and killed 328,227 people worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
On Sunday, the British government announced it was putting £65.5 million ($79 million) in fresh funding toward the development of the Covid-19 vaccine, with 30 million doses expected to be rolled out as early as September.
The University of Oxford announced it had partnered with AstraZeneca in April, to allow the drugmaker to develop and distribute the vaccine being researched by the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group.
Human trials began last month on over 1,000 volunteers in the south of England and AstraZeneca said in this latest announcement that data from the trials was “expected shortly which, if positive, would lead to late-stage trials in a number of countries.”
Although, given that no trial data has been released, we do not yet know if the vaccine will be effective and AstraZeneca has said it recognizes that it may not work.
On Monday, U.S. drugmaker Moderna released positive data from its phase one human trial on its potential vaccine, in development with the U.S. government.
Health-care publication STAT then reported Tuesday that vaccine experts were skeptical of Moderna’s new data. However, Moderna Chairman Noubar Afeyan told CNBC Wednesday that the drugmaker would never put out coronavirus vaccine data that was different from “reality.”
Moderna said earlier in May that it was wrapping up the phase one trials and was moving to start phase two trials, expecting phase three to begin in July. If the vaccine was found to be safe to use, Moderna said it could be ready for the market in early 2021.
BARDA has also provided funding for one of the two vaccines being developed by French pharmaceuticals company Sanofi, which it is working on with U.K. drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, according to Reuters in a report which said there are more than 90 vaccines being developed around the world, with eight in clinical trials.
— CNBC’s Chloe Taylor and Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this article.