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5 June, 2020 - 15:10 By Tony Quested

Risk worth taking as AstraZeneca starts making COVID-19 vaccine

Backed by a newly escalated global coalition, Cambridge Big Biotech AstraZeneca is starting production of the Oxford University ahead of trial results being received.

The UK company’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said he appreciates that materials and vaccines could be wasted if manufacturing goes full steam ahead and the trials then fail.

But the UK company believes it is a risk worth taking – and it has upped its target and says it will now supply two billion doses ofd the vaccine.

AstraZeneca is able to massively scale production following an historic triple agreement in the last 24 hours with three major players internationally. And Soriot has reiterated his pledge to ensure the vaccine reaches the poorest people on the planet.

The company has secured landmark agreements with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the Serum Institute of India (SII).

It reached a $750 million accord with CEPI and Gavi to support the manufacturing, procurement and distribution of 300 million doses of the vaccine, with delivery starting by the end of the year. 

It also agreed a licensing arrangement with SII to supply one billion doses for low and middle-income countries, with a commitment to provide 400 million before the end of 2020.

Together, the agreements mark the latest commitments to enable global access to the vaccine, including to low and middle-income countries, beyond AstraZeneca’s recent partnerships with the UK and US. 

The company is building a number of supply chains in parallel across the world to support global access at no profit during the pandemic and has so far secured manufacturing capacity for two billion doses of the vaccine.

The agreement with CEPI and Gavi also represents the first advanced market commitment through the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global mechanism co-chaired by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization. 

The mechanism will work to ensure the fair allocation and distribution of the vaccine across the world including in low and middle-income nations. CEPI will lead development and manufacturing and Gavi will lead the procurement within the global mechanism.

Soriot said: “We are working tirelessly to honour our commitment to ensure broad and equitable access to Oxford’s vaccine across the globe and at no profit. 

“The latest agreements mark an important step in helping us supply hundreds of millions of people around the world, including to those in countries with the lowest means. I am deeply grateful for everyone’s commitment to this cause and for their work in bringing this together in such a short time.”

Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer, CEPI, added: “AstraZeneca and our other industry partners have a critical role to play in rapidly developing safe and effective vaccines and manufacturing the billions of doses needed to put a permanent end to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“AstraZeneca is admirably committed to equitable global access for this vaccine and this partnership demonstrates how the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility will bring the private, public and third sectors together to make COVID-19 vaccines available to those who need them most, for the benefit of all.”

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