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expert reaction to announcement by AstraZeneca that they have received $1 billion support from US BARDA for the development and production of the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, have announced that they have received $1 billion support from US BARDA for the development and production of the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate.


Dr Claas Kirchhelle, Lecturer in the History of Medicine, University College Dublin and Fellow of the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, said:

“BARDA’s massive investment in scaling up the production of a potential Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is great news and an appropriate response to a major global crisis. BARDA was set up in 2006 by the Bush Administration to prepare the US against biosecurity, chemical, and nuclear threats including pandemic influenza. It has already played an important role in supporting antibiotic research and development and is in charge of the strategic stockpile for drugs, vaccines, and medical equipment.

“By investing in Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine, BARDA is, however, doing more than just fulfilling its national security brief. While it is clear that BARDA’s investment is not entirely selfless and will significantly benefit US citizens, its $1bn will hopefully also enhance the rapid global provision of an affordable and effective vaccine. National solo efforts will not be enough to protect lives and economies from COVID-19. Financing a robust, equitable, and well-coordinated international vaccine drive may.”


Prof Eleanor Riley FMedSci, Professor of Immunology and Infectious Disease at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Three different vaccination studies in nonhuman primates, all published this week, provide broadly similar and generally positive results. An inactivated viral vaccine from China, a DNA vaccine from the USA and the viral vectored product from Oxford all induce virus neutralising antibodies and reduce disease severity, virus replication and virus shedding.

“Although we have not seen data from human trials yet, with efficacy looking promising in preclinical studies, safety is the next major hurdle. Adverse reactions to vaccination tend to be infrequent but can be devastating for the affected individuals. Large scale trials are essential to properly assess the risk of such severe adverse reactions and it is reassuring to see plans for large phase III efficacy studies prior to roll out of vaccines in the general population.  If these vaccines, and others in production, prove to be safe as well as effective, there may be several vaccines vying for access to large scale production facilities.”


Prof Ian Jones, Professor of Virology, University of Reading, said:

“The announcement of further and substantial funding for AstraZeneca to scale up the Vaccitech ChAdOX vaccine, now AZD1222, should allow many more doses than was originally envisaged. This will be important for wider distribution but also as the recent performance data was not as good as hoped and the possibility of using a second dose, a boost, was hitherto limited by manufacturing capability.

“The vaccine is quite well advanced, but it is important to be clear that advanced or not the performance of the vaccine in preventing disease and preferably infection per se is paramount. A vaccine that still allows the virus to replicate risks the selection of breakthrough strains that could then evade vaccine protection. There is no evidence for this yet in naturally immune individuals, but it is certainly one to watch.”


Prof Lawrence Young FMedSci, Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, said:

“This is an important development particularly in planning for the equitable supply of the vaccine throughout the world.

“It is, however, jumping the gun as we don’t know that this vaccine will work. Early studies using the Oxford vaccine in monkeys showed that while vaccination reduced the severity of disease preventing pneumonia it failed to stop the animals from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2.

“This raises serious questions about the ability of this vaccine to protect against infection in humans and to prevent virus transmission. We need to be urgently exploring other vaccine candidates. It is interesting that the press release also mentions Astra Zeneca’s comprehensive pandemic response and its research efforts to discover novel coronavirus neutralising antibodies to prevent and treat progression of COVID-19. It states that clinical trials of this approach are hoping to enter clinical trials in the next three to five months. There are many developments in the use of therapeutic antibodies including current trials using convalescent plasma.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

Prof Eleanor Riley: None to declare

Prof Ian Jones: None to declare

Prof Lawrence Young: None to declare

None others received.

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