Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine results raise hopes for Covid fight

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca has delivered a better than expected result in late-stage trials, boosting hopes that the pandemic can be defeated.

The new vaccine will be submitted for regulatory approval “immediately”. Matt Hancock, the UK’s health secretary, said vaccinations could start next month, subject to regulatory approval, with the bulk of the rollout taking place after January. Britain has secured 100m doses of the jab.

The successful results follow positive trials of rival treatments this month from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which lifted global stock markets and signalled a possible end to the lockdowns that have wreaked havoc on the world economy. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines showed effectiveness of close to 95 per cent in their interim results.

Shares in London-listed AstraZeneca fell 3.8 per cent to £80.00 after some equity analysts compared the results negatively with those previous trials.

Geoffrey Porges, an analyst at SVB Leerink, criticised the amount of data released by the vaccine developers and said that it may fail to win global regulatory approval. “We believe that this product will never be licensed in the US,” he said.

However, the results were better than the 50 per cent effectiveness sought by both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency, which approve vaccines. AstraZeneca said it would work closely with the FDA to bring the vaccine to the US “as quickly as possible”.

Under one dosing regimen, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine achieved 90 per cent efficacy, a measure of prevention of infection or severe disease. That required a half dose of the vaccine to be given followed by a full dose at least a month later. When the jab was given as two full doses at least one month apart, efficacy was only 62 per cent. The average efficacy, during trials in the UK and Brazil, was 70 per cent.

Scientists speculate that the lower first dose may have primed the immune system in a way that made it more receptive to the second jab, but more research will be needed to confirm this. “All of us expected that two full doses would give the best response,” said Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the trial at Oxford, said.

He said the findings showed “that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives”.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca jab became the great hope of British science and during the summer was regarded worldwide as the leader in the Covid-19 vaccine race. But Oxford fell behind Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech when its trial was halted following the illness of one participant, which was not found to have been caused by the vaccine.

Pam Cheng, AstraZeneca vice-president of operations, said at least 4m of the UK doses would be available by the end of this year and 40m by the end of March. A lower first dose would further increase availability.

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are sold at profit and much of their projected supply for next year has been secured by richer nations. By contrast, AstraZeneca, along with Johnson & Johnson, has said it will sell its inoculation at cost during the pandemic. J&J trials are continuing.

The jab is priced at about $3 to $4 a dose, supply deals suggest — much less than the price of other vaccines. The vaccine can be stored long-term at normal fridge temperature, between 2C and 8C; other treatments require a storage temperature as low as minus 70C.

AstraZeneca and manufacturing partners around the world, such as India’s Serum Institute, hope to produce up to 3bn doses next year. Depending on regulatory approval, a lower first dose regimen could make more doses available.

AstraZeneca has received approximately 3.2bn orders for its jab, according to data from the London consultancy Airfinity.

“This vaccine is more suitable for rollout in poorer countries because it only requires refrigeration,” said Ellen ’t Hoen, director of Medicines Law & Policy, a research group. “They had the foresight to work with vaccine producers in developing countries early on.”

Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Centre at Geneva’s Graduate Institute, said a key trait of the vaccine was that it was “funded, developed and licensed with global access as a central objective”.

Prof Pollard told a news briefing on Monday morning: “We have a vaccine for the world.”

Speaking at a UK government briefing later, Prof Pollard said that he was “hugely proud” of his team and thanked the 20,000 volunteers around the world who had participated in the trials.

Additional reporting by Harry Dempsey in London

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