AstraZeneca’s vaccine is one of the four projects that Australia has inked formal supply agreements for. Under an agreement between the federal government, AstraZeneca and CSL, the Australian biotech plans to make more than 30 million doses of the product in Melbourne from next year.
Soriot’s comments came as AstraZeneca released results showing that third-quarter revenue rose 3 per cent as the pandemic reduced new cancer diagnoses and elective procedures, cutting demand for its products.
AstraZeneca and Oxford have pledged to provide their COVID-19 vaccine on a non-profit basis during the pandemic. AstraZeneca will continue to supply the vaccine to developing countries without profit after the pandemic is brought under control, and wealthy countries will pay a “relatively low cost,” Ruud Dobber, president of the company’s US unit, told The Associated Press.
“We are extremely committed to make sure that not only the rich countries but also, once again, the low- and middle-income countries can afford to have this vaccine in order to protect their people,” Dobber said in an interview.
Kate Bingham, chair of Britain’s Vaccine Taskforce, says data on the two most advanced vaccine candidates — AstraZeneca-Oxford and Pfizer’s collaboration with BioNTech — should be available in early December.
Regulators in the US and Britain are conducting an accelerated review that could lead to approval.
“If we get that, we have the possibility of deploying by year end,” Bingham told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
Bingham acknowledged that there will only be about 4 million doses available to the UK by the end of 2020, despite the government’s earlier estimate that 30 million doses would be ready by September. The shortfall is due to manufacturing “hiccups” that have since been resolved, she said.
The delay in developing the vaccine is partly due to the drop in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, which slowed the progress of human trials that rely on subjects being exposed to the disease naturally, Soriot said on Thursday.
Also, the company is holding off on producing doctor-ready vials of the vaccine to ensure it has the longest possible shelf-life after receiving regulatory approval. AstraZeneca is building frozen stockpiles of the vaccine’s active component, which will be turned into the injectable vaccine as soon as the clinical data comes through.
Waiting until the last moment means that precious shelf life will be preserved, Soriot said.
“What we have done is we have aligned the timing of delivery of vials to the timing of the clinical trial readout,’’ he said. “As soon as you turn this vaccine into vials, the shelf life starts ticking.’’