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AstraZeneca to work with University of Oxford on Covid-19 vaccine development and distribution

AstraZeneca is to collaborate with the University of Oxford on the global development and distribution of its potential Covid-19 vaccine.

Phase I clinical trials began last month to study the safety and efficacy of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, as it is known, and data could be available in a month.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca (34262780)
Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca (34262780)

Healthy volunteers aged 18 to 55 have been involved across five trial centres in southern England, with advancement to late-stage trials expected by the middle of this year.

Under the agreement, AstraZeneca would be responsible for the vaccine’s development and worldwide manufacturing and distribution. It will provide UK access as early as possible if the vaccine candidate is successful and, in making it available internationally, will ensure its is available and accessible for low- and medium-income countries.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said: “As Covid-19 continues its grip on the world, the need for a vaccine to defeat the virus is urgent.

“This collaboration brings together the University of Oxford’s world-class expertise in vaccinology and AstraZeneca’s global development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities.

“Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can accelerate the globalisation of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation.”

Both partners will operate on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic, covering only the costs of production and distribution.

Oxford University and its spin-out company Vaccitech jointly have the rights to the platform technology used to develop the vaccine candidate, but will receive no royalties during the pandemic. Any subsequent royalties will be reinvested back into medical research, including a new Pandemic Preparedness and Vaccine Research Centre, being developed in collaboration with AstraZeneca.

ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 has been developed at the university’s Jenner Institute, working with the Oxford Vaccine Group, and uses a viral vector based on a weakened version of the common cold (adenovirus) containing the genetic material of the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The surface spike protein is produced after vaccination, priming the immune system to attack Covid-19 if it later infects the body.

The recombinant adenovirus vector (ChAdOx1) generates a strong immune response from a single dose, but is not replicating, meaning it cannot cause an ongoing infection in a vaccinated individual.

This means it is safer to give to children, the elderly and anyone with a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes.

There are many studies of adenoviral vectors as a vaccine type,.Thousands of people – aged from one week to 90 years – have been given such vaccines, targeting more than 10 different diseases.

More than 320 people have already been given vaccines made from the ChAdOx1 virus, and these have been shown to be safe and well tolerated, although individuals can experience temporary side effects such as a temperature, flu-like symptoms, headache or a sore arm.

Some 1,110 people are taking part in the trial, with half receiving the vaccine and the other half, the control group, receiving a meningitis vaccine.

Mene Pangalos, EVP and president, research and development biopharmaceuticals at AstraZeneca (34262793)
Mene Pangalos, EVP and president, research and development biopharmaceuticals at AstraZeneca (34262793)

Mene Pangalos, executive vice president, biopharmaceuticals R&D, AstraZeneca, said: “The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have a longstanding relationship to advance basic research and we are hugely excited to be working with them on advancing a vaccine to prevent Covid-19 around the world.

“We are looking forward to working with the University of Oxford and innovative companies such as Vaccitech, as part of our new partnership.”

Alok Sharma, the UK Business Secretary, said: “This collaboration between Oxford University and AstraZeneca is a vital step that could help rapidly advance the manufacture of a coronavirus vaccine. It will also ensure that, should the vaccine being developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute work, it will be available as early as possible, helping to protect thousands of lives from this disease.”

Professor Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said: “Our partnership with AstraZeneca will be a major force in the struggle against pandemics for many years to come. We believe that together we will be in a strong position to start immunising against coronavirus once we have an effective approved vaccine.

“Sadly, the risk of new pandemics will always be with us and the new research centre will enhance the world’s preparedness and our speed of reaction the next time we face such a challenge.”

The Oxford team has previously developed a vaccine for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), another human coronavirus, which has shown promise in early clinical trials.

Professor Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said: “Like my colleagues all across Oxford, I am deeply proud of the work of our extraordinarily talented team of academics in the Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group.

“They represent the best tradition of research, teaching and contributing to the world around us, that has been the driving mission of the University of Oxford for centuries.

“Like people all across the country, we are wishing them success in developing an effective vaccine. If they are successful, our partnership with AstraZeneca will ensure that the British people and people across the world, especially in low and middle income countries, will be protected from this terrible virus as quickly as possible.”

The agreement comes as AstraZeneca announces positive first quarter results, with revenue growth of 16 per cent to $6.354billion, and product sales up 15 per cent at $6.311billion.

The new testing centre that the University of Cambridge, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline are collaborating on opens on Cambridge Biomedical Centre today (Monday May 5), and aims to conduct 30,000 tests a day by the end of May.

AstraZeneca is also working on new antibody drugs to treat Covid-19, and has launched trials to see if two of its existing drugs, Calquence and Farxiga, can be repurposed to help coronavirus patients.

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