AstraZeneca is aiming to produce 2 billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine — and it could be ready by September

Health, Fitness & Food

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is aiming to produce 2 billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine, including 400 million for the U.S. and U.K. and 1 billion for those in low- and middle-income countries. 

It plans to start distributing the vaccine to the U.S. and U.K. in September or October, with the balance of deliveries likely to be made by early 2021, according to AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, on a call with journalists Thursday.

AstraZeneca said it had signed a licensing deal with the Serum Institute of India to provide 1 billion doses to low- and middle-income countries, with 400 million of those shots set to be delivered by the end of 2020, according to a press release Thursday.

The vaccine, named AZD1222, was originally developed by Oxford University in the U.K. and AstraZeneca is working with pharmaceutical industry partners to manufacture and distribute the drug.

Soriot said the distribution was dependent on clinical trials taking place by August. Clinical trials and manufacturing are set to occur concurrently, which is an unprecedented move for the pharmaceutical industry because of the risk of producing a drug that might not work.

“We are very focused and very committed. When you have something like this with this sort of pandemic and the tremendous impact it has on people, the economy, et cetera, you can’t second-guess what’s going to happen. You can’t spend your time figuring out is it going to work or not going to work, you just have to commit. … We come in and make a bet on some of these things,” Soriot said on the call.

Oxford University’s Jenner Institute has worked with the Oxford Vaccine Group to develop the AZD1222 vaccine that includes a protein of the SARS CoV-2 virus strain, which causes the coronavirus disease known as Covid-19. It is currently testing the drug in around 10,000 adult volunteers. So far it has been “safe and well-tolerated,” according to AstraZeneca’s press release.

Asked whether the vaccine will work, Soriot said, “The chance of the vaccine working I would say we all have very good hope, from what we’ve seen so far,” adding that the company is creating a comprehensive database of safety information and expects to eventually have clinical trials with more than 50,000 volunteers taking part.

Trials are running concurrently with manufacturing to make the vaccine available as early as possible, according to Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is working with AstraZeneca on the drug’s production. “Obviously, if the vaccine is successful, placing that early bet on the manufacturing gives a huge payoff because you end up with tens or even hundreds of millions of doses that become available at the earliest possible moment,” he said on the call with journalists Thursday.

“We believe we can get the vaccine to hundreds of millions of people around the world, importantly, including those in the countries with the lowest income. So our goal is really to not leave anybody behind,” Soriot said.

On Thursday, governments and businesses said they would give $8.8 billion to a vaccine alliance known as Gavi, which is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation and the World Health Organization have created a mechanism known as the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator to make sure the vaccine is distributed fairly.

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