COVID-19: AstraZeneca Receives $1B from BARDA to Develop Oxford’s Coronavirus Vaccine
By T. Chakraborty, Ph.D.
AstraZeneca is a UK-based company that focuses on creating vaccines for cardiovascular diseases, immuno-respiratory disorders, oncology among others. The biopharma giant has now received support from the US towards the development of a COVID-19 vaccine along with the University of Oxford.
On May 21st, AstraZeneca announced that it has received over 1 billion dollars from the U.S. Health Department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop, produce and deliver bulk quantities of COVID-19 vaccine globally starting this September. AstraZeneca’s development program for the COVID-19 vaccine primarily includes a Phase III clinical trial, which would enroll 30,000 participants and a pediatric trial .
The adenovirus recombinant vaccine, AZD1222 (formerly ChAdOx1 nCoV-19), is being developed by the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group. AstraZeneca has inked its first agreement for a minimum of 400 million doses alongside securing a total manufacturing capacity for one billion doses. Soon, it plans to expand supply capacity and is in talks with organizations such as the Serum Institute of India for increased production.
To ensure that their vaccine is globally available and allocated equally to different countries, it has also sought help from organizations like Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) .
“This pandemic is a global tragedy and it is a challenge for all of humanity. We need to defeat the virus together or it will continue to inflict huge personal suffering and leave long-lasting economic and social scars in every country around the world,” said Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca. “We are so proud to be collaborating with Oxford University to turn their ground-breaking work into a medicine that can be produced on a global scale. We would like to thank the U.S. and U.K. governments for their substantial support to accelerate the development and production of the vaccine. We will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available.”
A recombinant adenoviral vector was utilized to construct the AZD1222 as it has been previously widely used against several pathogens, including other strains of coronavirus. This vector elicits a higher immune response and has no replication, thereby reducing viral load. This viral vector has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated in humans causing temporary side-effects like headache and soreness. The researchers at Oxford, led by Dr. Munster demonstrated that a single vaccination of AZD1222 was able to protect six rhesus macaques from pneumonia caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The vaccine elicited an immune response post-infection which lead to the production of pro-inflammatory factors. Key pathological studies further demonstrated that non-human primates who received AZD1222 had normal lung pathology further showing that the vaccine was able to protect one of the major target organs of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, it is important to note that the vaccine did not prevent the animals from getting infected in the first place .
This study was the basis of Phase I/II clinical trial which started in mid-April, in England [2,3]. Vaccines made from the ChAdOx1 virus have been given to more than 320 people to date and have been shown to be safe and well-tolerated, although they can cause temporary side effects such as a rise in body temperature, influenza-like symptoms, headache or a sore arm. 1000 healthy individuals aged between 18 to 55 have been injected with the vaccine to test for efficacy and safety. The data from the trial is still not available, but AstraZeneca has scaled up it’s manufacturing at risk. The company has further invested in developing antibody-based treatments to treat COVID-19 patients, which are aimed to reach clinical trials in three to five months. AstraZeneca is also testing existing drugs like acalabrutinib in COVID-19 patients [1,3,5].
Global Vaccine Development
Earlier this week, Cambridge, MA-based Moderna Inc. released positive data from the Phase I trial of the vaccine developed in collaboration with the U.S. government. If the data follows the same trend in late-stage trials, this vaccine may be available by early 2021. BARDA has already provided support to Moderna’s vaccine, which is being developed by Sanofi.
Other major companies in the running are Pfizer, which is collaborating with BioNTech for their mRNA based vaccine, and Johnson & Johnson that has a US$ 1 billion partnership with BARDA. Small scale Pharma companies such as Inovio, CureVac, Altimmune are also working on getting their COVID-19 vaccines to clinical trials . In addition to all these big players, the trials of five vaccine candidates are also ongoing in China, carried out by the likes of CanSino, Sinopharm, and Sinovac. If all goes according to plan, we should be having several vaccine options available to treat the millions of patients affected by coronavirus around the globe.
Editor: Rajaneesh K. Gopinath, Ph.D.
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