“I know some people find it hard to believe it, but we actually started this project to help,” he told reporters last week.
The Anglo-Swedish drug maker initially refused to monetize the 2 billion vaccines it made with the University of Oxford, while its rivals pocketed billions. This year he made a loss on the vaccine of 3 cents per share.
But the setbacks, delayed deliveries with a rare side effect and lower efficacy rates than mRNA injections, have made headlines. Last week Soriot appeared to be bracing for a new wave of criticism after announcing the company would now make a ‘modest’ profit in high and middle income countries, while keeping the vaccine nonprofit for the poorest. .
“We also said that at some point in the future we will make the transition [to] commercial orders, but its price will never be high because we want a vaccine to remain affordable for everyone in the world, ”he said. “It has a future but it’s definitely not something we see as a huge profit, that’s for sure. ”
The condemnation quickly followed: activists wondered why the company was shifting to a strategy for “endemic Covid”, when the pandemic is clearly not over. Soriot said he consulted with experts before making the appeal, but people familiar with the matter said that did not include the World Health Organization.
The biggest question for the future of AstraZeneca’s vaccine is: who will buy it?
The US has yet to approve it and the EU has a huge order with Pfizer that runs until 2023. Even its home country, the UK, has turned away from the shot. AstraZeneca: While it administered around 50 million in total, safety report data estimates that in the three months to early November, a maximum of 400,000 injections of AstraZeneca were administered.
“It served us well in the first stage of the deployment, but the AstraZeneca vaccine is now short of road in the UK,” said Professor Azeem Majeed, head of the department of primary care and public health at the Imperial College London.
Left out of the recall campaign
AstraZeneca’s latest work came when the UK decided to use Pfizer to fuel its recall campaign, even though it still had an order of tens of millions of doses of its local vaccine, officially known as by Vaxzevria. It was a brutal reversal for a government that had celebrated the coup as the best of the British and invested public funds to help make it happen.
In February, deliveries were evenly split between AstraZeneca and Pfizer, but by September, the scale had shifted sharply to the US pharmaceutical group, which accounted for 92% of the doses arrived, according to health analysis firm Airfinity. Some 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have already been thrown away, although this is less than expected by health officials.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, the government’s advisory body, selected Pfizer and Moderna as preferred vaccines for the UK booster campaign, based in part on a study that found better efficacy in administering a dose of Pfizer to recipients of AstraZeneca, and in part on concerns about a rare side effect. A person familiar with the discussions said advisers were reluctant to recommend AstraZeneca to vaccinated people previously inoculated with Pfizer because there was no point in risking possible side effects from the first dose of an AstraZeneca vaccine.
People familiar with the thinking inside AstraZeneca said the CEO’s irritation at being kicked out was made more intense by the fact that he had received little or no prior warning. Although not “territorial,” he expected his company’s product to be part of the campaign alongside mRNA vaccines, one person said.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister and cheerleader for the AstraZeneca coup, himself regretted his exclusion, two people said. Johnson publicly pitched his benefits to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a trip to the country just days after it was announced he would play a small role in the recall rollout in the UK.
Some in the company believe they may have been overwhelmed by a top Pfizer government relations operation. Another person close to the vaccination effort linked it to the government’s decision to purchase an additional 60 million doses of Pfizer in April, suggesting it must be used before it expires to justify spending public funds.
The government said the use of Pfizer and Moderna for the booster program was “recommended by the independent JCVI” after extensive clinical trials found it to offer the best protection.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has “played an important role in the early stages of our immunization program, protecting millions of people and saving lives and will continue to be used in our immunization program for those over 40,” he said. -he adds.
The first results of the studies may not be the ultimate proof that Pfizer is the best booster. Depending on the protocol chosen, the third dose was administered 10 to 12 weeks after the second to generate results by the end of the summer. Clive Dix, former acting chairman of the UK vaccine task force, said it would make mRNA jabs look better because they give a “strong early response”.
Yet Soriot and his team are now focusing on opportunities beyond the UK, believing their vaccine could become the booster of choice in middle-income countries, a business opportunity that will eclipse that offered by the vaccination campaign in the UK. United Kingdom, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The individual described the British effort as “a side show”, adding that Soriot was “focused on the global market and not on Mary in Maidenhead getting a booster”.
A senior UK official with first-hand knowledge agreed that AstraZeneca “doesn’t really have a future in the UK”, but said: “There is a future for AZ in the rest of the world because it is. easy to manage and that’s not a bad thing. vaccine. “
AstraZeneca recently signed its first for-profit vaccine contracts, but did not disclose which countries are on the other end of those deals. The company is likely to find the most willing buyers in countries that have been dependent on Chinese vaccines, which appear to be less effective, especially against the Delta Covid variant.
Soriot pointed to a large Latin American study which he said showed “very solid” results when using AstraZeneca as a booster after CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by Chinese Sinovac. Sinovac has delivered 2.1 billion doses to date, according to health analytics company Airfinity, with Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil receiving the most doses outside of China.
While large, this market is not particularly tempting for investors, who are hungrier for AstraZeneca’s products and pipeline in higher-priced areas such as oncology and large markets such as China.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine currently sells for $ 3-4, compared to around $ 22 in Pfizer’s more recent contracts. The UK company has not defined what it means by “modest” profit, but Soriot has made it clear that it is well below the margin in the high 20 percentage points expected by Pfizer. AstraZeneca must also pay Oxford 6 percent of sales.
Credit Suisse predicts that AstraZeneca will generate $ 1 billion in revenue from the Covid vaccine next year – up from the $ 29 billion Pfizer has already earmarked in 2022 contracts – a small portion of the expected total revenue from the British group of $ 42 billion.
Even though AstraZeneca is launching a division to host the vaccine and other products for viral respiratory diseases, analysts don’t believe this is the start of a major investment in vaccines. Jo Walton, analyst at Credit Suisse, said the new unit was a “time saver”.
“If they kept it on a not-for-profit basis, people might keep asking, ‘How long are you doing this? “And they should make a decision,” she said.
Over time, new studies of longer duration may show that the AstraZeneca vaccine is a good booster for people immunized with an mRNA injection, or there may be ways to use the expertise the company has. has developed on other products, said Walton.
“I think we’re just waiting to see if the vaccine subunit within the company spawns anything bigger over time,” she added.