Oxford Covid-19 vaccine is still possible this year, says AstraZeneca chief

AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine could still be available by the end of the year, or early next year, according to the company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, despite clinical trials being paused after a volunteer fell ill.

AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which are jointly developing the vaccine and testing it on 50,000 to 60,000 people around the world, have had to halt trials of their vaccine to investigate the “potentially unexpected illness” of one volunteer.

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Soriot was unable to say when the trial would be resumed, but said “I still think we are on track for having a set of data that we would submit before the end of the year” for regulatory approval.

Soriot added “we could still have a vaccine by the end of this year, early next year,” depending on how fast the regulator moves.

Speaking at an event hosted by the media group Tortoise, the AstraZeneca boss stressed it was common to have pauses in trials caused by “adverse events”.

“It’s very common, actually, and many experts will tell you this,” he said. “The difference with other vaccine trials is, the whole world is not watching them, of course. They stop, they study, and they restart.”

More tests were being done on the person who has fallen ill. The data will then be submitted to an independent safety committee which will assess it and then decide whether trials can resume.

The woman who fell ill reportedly had neurological symptoms consistent with a rare but serious spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis. Soriot said: “We don’t know if it’s transverse myelitis… We don’t know what the final diagnosis is.” Transverse myelitis can be treated by steroids to reduce the inflammation but the condition can be permanent.

AstraZeneca has struck a number of manufacturing partnerships around the world and believes it will be able to manufacture about 3bn doses. Soriot said he was confident that combined with the vaccines being developed by other pharmaceutical firms, there would be enough vaccines for the entire world population.

He said that the vaccine would be supplied to countries at the same time to ensure fair and equitable distribution.

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