AstraZeneca confirms UK ordered 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot confirmed that it has received an order from the UK government to supply 100 million doses of the University of Oxford's recombinant adenovirus vaccine candidate, formerly known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and now dubbed AZD1222, which the drugmaker will manufacture. He also indicated that people in Britain would be among the first to get the vaccine, adding "there's no doubt, starting in September, we will start delivering these doses of vaccine to the British government for vaccination."

The company last week said it hoped to make 30 million doses of AZD1222 available to people in the UK by September. The vaccine is currently undergoing Phase I testing, with Soriot suggesting at the time that "by June, July we will already have a very good idea of the direction of travel in terms of its potential efficacy."

However, in his latest remarks, Soriot noted that the possibility of the vaccine being rolled out in autumn depends on if the Oxford trial succeeds before the transmission rate lowers further. "The vaccine has to work and that's one question, and the other question is, even if it works, we have to be able to demonstrate it," the CEO said, adding "we have to run as fast as possible before the disease disappears so we can demonstrate that the vaccine is effective."

Study hampered by declining transmission rates

The comments come shortly after Adrian Hill, director of Oxford's Jenner Institute and a leading member of the research team, suggested that the dwindling coronavirus transmission rates in the UK leave the trial of the vaccine with only a 50% chance of success. "It's a race against the virus disappearing, and against time," Hill explained. "We said earlier in the year that there was an 80% likelihood of developing an effective vaccine by September, but at the moment, there's a 50% chance that we get no result at all. We're in the bizarre position of wanting COVID to stay, at least for a little while," he added.

The issue echoes a similar trend seen in China around mid-April when multiple COVID-19-related clinical trials were terminated in that country, including those for Gilead Sciences' remdesivir, mainly because China said it had curbed the epidemic there, with most patients having been cured and discharged from hospital.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca recently received support of up to $1.2 billion from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the development, production and delivery of at least 300 million doses of AZD1222 starting as early as October.

For related analysis, see ViewPoints: After Moderna vaccine reveal, attention shifts to Oxford and Sinovac.

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