AstraZeneca Could Deliver First COVID-19 Vaccine Later This Year

By Adriaan Brits Friday, August 28, 2020

AstraZeneca (AZN) has found itself in a spotlight this week after the Financial Times reported that the White House is considering fast-tracking the approval for AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in the US.

However, the pharma giant moved quickly to dismiss these rumors, saying that it “has not discussed emergency use authorization with the US government and it would be premature to speculate on that possibility.”

It is believed that their vaccine is one of the leading candidates to receive the first regulatory approval, although different timelines for the rollout of the vaccine have been discussed. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed about 810,000 people so far and infected nearly 25 million people globally.

Testing Stage 2 Ongoing

AstraZeneca’s leading vaccine candidate, known as AZD1222 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is reportedly in the second testing phase in Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The vaccine is primarily developed by Oxford University, but licensed to AstraZeneca in April.

Once they complete this phase, the plan is to include the US for the final Phase 3. According to the company, efficacy results will be available later this year. The best-case scenario sees the delivery of first doses by the end of this year, with additional doses in 2021, should it prove effective and tolerated, according to the company.

The firm’s partner in the development of the vaccine, Oxford University, also believes that there is a chance the vaccine may be put before regulators later this year, according to Prof Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.

“But it is also just possible that, if the cases accrue rapidly in the clinical trials, that we could have that data to put before regulators this year, and then there would be a process that they go through in order to make a full assessment of the data,” Whitty told BBC.

“Even with 1,000 people, eventually you’ll have enough information to know whether or not a vaccine works, but that could take years. So, having 20,000 people in our trials already means that that period of time will be shorter, but unfortunately, I can’t quite predict the future about how many cases are going to occur.”

However, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, doesn’t share Pollard’s bullish statement. He believes that the world won’t see a regulated vaccine for mass use before winter 2021.

“I would obviously be delighted if it came earlier, but I’d be quite surprised if we had a highly effective vaccine ready for mass use in a large percentage of the population before the end of winter, certainly before this side of Christmas,” said Whitty.

Vaccine Prices

Whether or not the vaccine will be ready early next year, AstraZeneca is already preparing for mass use of its vaccine. The company struck a major deal with the European Union (EU) to supply its member states with 300 million doses of its vaccine once it's ready and safe for use, with an option for the EU to purchase additional 100 million doses.

The same number of doses will be available to the US, as per the agreement between two sides reached in May. In exchange, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pledged up to $1.2 billion to accelerate vaccine development.

Moreover, the drugmaker has also agreed to make its vaccine available elsewhere, including Japan, Russia, China, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina.

Looking globally, AstraZeneca committed to produce around 3 billion doses of the vaccine. There’s still no official information about the price of a single dose, although the firm said it would cost only a few euros/US dollars per dose, with a pledge not to profit from sales as long as there is a virus outbreak.

According to Fortune, AstraZeneca committed to set a “reasonable” post-pandemic price and is “committed to ensure equitable access, globally.” AstraZeneca’s chief in Mexico said earlier that a single dose wouldn’t cost more than $4 apiece. Similarly, the vaccine would cost around €2.50 ($2.95) in Italy and around ₹221.62 ($3) in India.

AZN stock gains

Large contracts with numerous countries around the world have also translated into solid gains for the AZN stock. Shares are trading around 12% higher since the beginning of the year, or nearly 60% higher than March’s lows.

Last month, AstraZeneca's share price logged an all-time high at $64.94. In case the company becomes the first major player to receive approval for mass production of its COVID-19 vaccine, shares are expected to skyrocket over $100 per share. The pharma giant has a market capitalization of nearly $75 billion.

Summary

AstraZeneca and Oxford University have been working tirelessly on the COVID-19 vaccine since the outbreak started in China earlier this year. It is believed that their vaccine candidate has a very good chance of becoming the first officially-regulated COVID-19 vaccine.

According to some experts, there’s a chance that enough data may be available to put before regulators later this year. At the same time, the pharma giant continues to strike contracts for the first supply of the COVID-19 vaccine.

About the Author


Headshot for author Adriaan Brits
As an analyst of global affairs, Adriaan has an MSC from Oxford, with diverse interests in the digital economy, entertainment, and business. He is a specialist trainer in Advanced Analytics & Media.

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