AstraZeneca gets behind Covid-19 vaccine developed at University of Oxford

Alaric DeArment

An AstraZeneca location in Gaithersburg, Maryland

British drugmaker AstraZeneca is putting its weight behind an academic development program for a vaccine against the virus that causes Covid-19, the company said Thursday.

The London-based pharmaceutical company said it had partnered with the University of Oxford to develop the vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 against the virus, SARS-CoV-2. ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is an adenoviral vector-based vaccine that consists of genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 inserted into a weakened common cold virus. The idea is that after a person has been vaccinated, the spike protein on the surface of the Covid-19 virus is produced, thereby preparing the immune system to attack it.

Per, the university is sponsoring a randomized, single-blind Phase I/II study of 1,112 healthy volunteers who will receive either the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine or an active comparator consisting of the meningococcus vaccine MenACWY. Single blinding means that the volunteers will not be aware of which vaccine they receive, but physicians will be. The trial, which was posted to the clinical trials database late last month, is taking place at several centers in the U.K. Data could be available next month, the company said, and it expects that late-stage development will begin by the middle of the year.

“As Covid-19 continues its grip on the world, the need for a vaccine to defeat the virus is urgent,” AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in a statement. “This collaboration brings together the University of Oxford’s world-class expertise in vaccinology and AstraZeneca’s global development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities.”

Recombinant adenovirus vectors are one of multiple technologies being used to develop vaccines against coronavirus. The company furthest along in development, Tianjin, China-based CanSino Biologics, has an adenovirus-based vaccine in Phase II development.

Another common approach that experts have said offers a quicker way to develop vaccines is to use messenger RNA. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna has an mRNA-based vaccine, mRNA-1273, currently in Phase I development and for which it recently filed with the Food and Drug Administration to begin a Phase II clinical study, contingent on success in Phase I. Meanwhile, New York-based Pfizer is developing an mRNA-based vaccine, BNT162, under a partnership with Mainz, Germany-based BioNTech. The companies said last week that they had received authorization from Germany’s Paul-Ehrlich-Institut to begin a Phase I/II clinical trial of the vaccine there.

Photo: AstraZeneca

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