US Funds $1 Billion Toward Developing Oxford University Vaccine for COVID-19
MAY 21, 2020 | KEVIN KUNZMANN
AstraZeneca has received financial support exceeding $1 billion from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to produce at least 400 million doses of the University of Oxford’s candidate ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine for coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).
The financial agreement has the pharmaceutical company set to produce in total 1 billion doses thus far, with deliveries beginning in September 2020.
The recombinant adenovirus vaccine candidate—which is comprised of genetic material used to make Spike glycoproteins—underwent the start of a 1000-volunteer participant trial assessing its safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy in persons aged 18-55 years old across multiple trial centers in southern England.
Prior to that, a report from The New York Timesshowed 6 rhesus macaques given the university’s hAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine in assessments at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana were free of SARS-CoV-2 after 4 weeks of sustained virus exposure.
The Montana-based investigators emphasized the rhesus macaques are “pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,” and that previous test subjects exposed to the test levels of the virus were sick over time.
This new BARDA financial agreement also entails a development program including a phase 3 clinical trial involving 30,000 participants, as well as a pediatric trial.
Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca, called the pandemic a global tragedy that has challenged all of humanity—a task which requires collaboration to defeat.
“We are so proud to be collaborating with Oxford University to turn their ground-breaking work into a medicine that can be produced on a global scale,” he said in a statement. “We will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available.”
The company is also engaged with international organizations including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish fair global allocation and distribution of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca is also in discussions with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, and other potential partners to increase production and distribution of the candidate. The serum institute previously announced intentions to make 40 million doses of AZD1222.
This first push to globalize distribution of a coronavirus vaccine candidate comes at a time that multiple, varying candidates have reached clinical assessment stages. Experts have advised that the likelihood of an early, promising vaccine candidate continually showing absolute efficacy is very low, and some clinicians have even suggested the best-case scenario for COVID-19 vaccination may not be as great other prophylaxis options.
In a recent interview with Contagion, William Schaffner, MD, professor of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, likened the development and distribution of a young vaccine candidate to a widely-accepted gamble.
“It’s a little like a horse race,” he said. “The horses haven’t gone around the track yet, but you put your money down.”
A $1 billion bet has just been placed on AZD1222.
“Data from the trial is expected shortly which, if positive, would lead to late-stage trials in a number of countries,” the company stated in its announcement. “AstraZeneca recognizes that the vaccine may not work, but is committed to progressing the clinical program with speed and scaling up manufacturing at risk.”
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