AstraZeneca Widens Covid Vaccine Access in $750 Million Deal (1)

June 4, 2020, 5:49 PM

AstraZeneca Plc entered a $750 million deal to broaden global access to one of the fastest-moving experimental Covid-19 vaccines, should it be successful.

The British drugmaker reached an agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to support the manufacturing, procurement and distribution of 300 million doses of the shot, according to a statement Thursday. Delivery will start by the end of the year.

In addition, the company reached a licensing agreement with the Serum Institute of India to supply 1 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries, with a commitment to provide 400 million before the end of 2020.

The U.S. and other countries have been moving to secure supplies of vaccines even before any of them have been shown to work against the coronavirus. Astra’s agreements are among the first concrete steps taken by drugmakers to ensure that doses are available to citizens of rich and poor nations alike.

All told, AstraZeneca now has capacity to make about 2 billion doses of the vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford. The company hasn’t determined whether it will seek more capacity, according to Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot.

“It would probably make sense for society to bet on two or three technologies,” he said in a press briefing. “We don’t know which one is going to work.”

No Guarantee

The Oxford vaccine’s developers have predicted availability in the U.K. as early as September. The U.S. has committed as much as $1.2 billion to advancing the product, and will begin getting doses as early as October. There’s still no guarantee that the vaccine will work, Soriot said.

“I would say that we all have a pretty good hope from what we’ve seen so far, but we can’t be sure, of course,” he said.

Astra is now facing a challenge of trying to find populations where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly enough to test the vaccine, he said. The human testing program will probably comprise about 50,000 volunteers.

Designation of supplies for rich countries has raised concern about a trend toward vaccine nationalism, where nations try to secure shots for their own citizens, leaving others to scramble. Gavi, CEPI and the World Health Organization have been working to ensure equitable access.

Vaccination “will be the most effective way to exit the acute phase of the pandemic, and we need to provide for populations globally,” said Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s chief executive officer, in a telephone call with reporters.

Gates Foundation

Seeing worldwide production as a way to overcome vaccine nationalism, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is using his foundation to help ensure manufacturing capacity is ready even before any experimental candidates have proven to work. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also pledged $100 million to a Gavi-led effort to purchase potential shots for low-income countries.

The World Health Organization is developing a process to make recommendations for allocating vaccines to various populations at highest risk for infection, such as health-care workers and the elderly, according to Hatchett.

(Updates with Astra, CEPI CEO comments from the fifth paragraph)

--With assistance from James Paton.

To contact the reporter on this story:
John Lauerman in London at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Eric Pfanner at epfanner1@bloomberg.net

Anne Pollak

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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