British drug maker AstraZeneca has teamed up with the University of Oxford to develop and manufacture a vaccine for coronavirus, in a move that could allow for rapid vaccination around the world if the treatment proves to be effective.
Human trials of the vaccine developed by the university’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group entered phase-one testing last week, with hundreds of people aged 18 to 55 volunteering across five trial centres in southern England.
“As COVID-19 continues its grip on the world, the need for a vaccine to defeat the virus is urgent,” Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca
said in a statement on Thursday.
Speaking to BBC radio, Soriot said: “It is definitely a risk to launch into the development of the vaccine but now is the time to take those kind of risks.”
“By June, July we will already have a very good idea of the direction of travel in terms of its potential efficacy,” he added.
Shares in AstraZeneca, which are up 8.8% in the year to date, were up 1.90% in early morning trading in London.
Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, described the partnership with AstraZeneca as a “major force in the struggle against pandemics” for “many years” to come.
But Bell told the BBC’s Today program that the challenge is to be able to manufacture at scale once it is approved by the regulators. “We also want to make sure that the rest of the world will be ready to make this vaccine at scale so that it gets to populations in developing countries, for example, where the need is very great,” he said.
The U.K. death toll from the coronavirus disease COVID-19 has risen to 26,097, after the government on Wednesday started including deaths in care homes and the wider community for the first time.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford University partnership is the first created since the U.K. government launched the Vaccines Taskforce two weeks ago to help find a new coronavirus vaccine. Details of the agreement are set to be finalized in the coming weeks.
It comes amid a global race to find a vaccine against the coronavirus, with governments lobbying companies to secure first access when one is ready. There are 70 treatments under development worldwide.
On Wednesday, the top U.S. infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci said data collected from the coronavirus drug trial testing by Gilead Sciences
with the antiviral drug remdesivir showed “quite good news.”
Oxford University said both partners have agreed to operate on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic, with only the costs of production and distribution being covered.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “hugely welcome news” that Oxford University had come to an agreement with AstraZeneca to scale up its coronavirus vaccine.
“The science is uncertain, and no vaccine may work, but this deal gives the U.K. the best chance we can of a breakthrough that could defeat this awful virus. I’m sending best wishes for good fortune to all involved — for the sake of the nation and indeed the whole world.