The company logo for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is displayed on a screen on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID
The company logo for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is displayed on a screen on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID

London — UK pharmaceuticals group AstraZeneca says it has secured more than $1bn from the US to help fund production of its coronavirus vaccine.

AstraZeneca is partnering with the University of Oxford to develop and distribute a vaccine being trialled in the UK.

It comes amid concerns that the US — which has the world's highest official death rate from Covid-19 — could have a vaccine before other countries thanks to its large-scale funding of multinational pharmaceutical companies.

France has criticised Paris-based drugs giant Sanofi for suggesting the US would receive its vaccine first, as world leaders demand that the science should be shared among nations.

On Thursday, AstraZeneca said it had “received support of more than $1bn from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine”.

The company, however, added it was in contact with governments and international health institutions to ensure the vaccine was available globally.

AstraZeneca said it had concluded deals for the first 400-million doses of the vaccine — and has manufacturing capacity for one-billion doses, with it hoping to begin deliveries in September.

Accessible globally

“AstraZeneca is advancing its ongoing response to address the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19, collaborating with a number of countries and multilateral organisations to make the University of Oxford's vaccine widely accessible around the world in an equitable manner,” a statement said.

The company added it was “engaging with international organisations”, including the World Health Organisation, for the fair allocation and distribution of the vaccine around the world”.

“AstraZeneca is also in discussions with governments around the world to increase access.”

This week, the UK pledged £84m to be split between researchers at Oxford University and Imperial College London to help finance a Covid-19 vaccine.

The UK government had already given £47m.

Human trials of the vaccine developed by Oxford's Jenner Institute began in April, with hundreds of people in Britain volunteering to be part of the study.

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 325,000 people worldwide, three-quarters of them in Europe and the US, since breaking out in China in December.

More than five-million people have been infected globally by the pandemic, sparking a rush by pharmaceutical companies across the world to try to develop treatments and vaccines.

“This pandemic is a global tragedy and it is a challenge for all of humanity,” AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in Thursday's statement.

“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.”

Substantial US and UK support

Soriot expressed pride at collaborating with Oxford “to turn their ground-breaking work into a medicine that can be produced on a global scale”.

He meanwhile thanked “the US and UK governments for their substantial support to accelerate the development and production of the vaccine”.

Initially named ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the vaccine is now known as AZD1222.

“A Phase I/II clinical trial of AZD1222 began last month to assess safety, immunogenicity and efficacy in over 1,000 healthy volunteers aged 18-55 years across several trial centres in southern England,” AstraZeneca said Thursday.

“Data from the trial is expected shortly which, if positive, would lead to late-stage trials in a number of countries.

“AstraZeneca recognises that the vaccine may not work but is committed to progressing the clinical programme with speed and scaling up manufacturing at risk,” the statement added.