AstraZeneca, the Cambridge-based pharmaceutical group, is teaming up with Oxford University to manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine if clinical trials currently under way show it is effective.
News of the partnership boosted AstraZeneca’s share price, helping it to become Britain’s most valuable company by market capitalisation.
The potential vaccine, aimed at preventing Covid-19 infection, is being developed at Oxford and is being tested on more than 1,100 healthy human volunteers in the first phase of clinical trials at five centres in southern England.
Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, said the collaboration combined the university’s expertise in vaccinology and his company’s manufacturing and distribution capabilities.
“Our hope is that by joining forces we can accelerate the globalisation of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation,” Soriot said.
More than 1,000 volunteers aged between 18 and 55 are taking part in trials of the vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, at five test centres. The results of the trials could be available from May.
If the vaccine proves successful, late-stage trials could take place in the middle of this year, in a significant acceleration of the usual vaccine testing process.
AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, says the collaboration combines Oxford University’s expertise in vaccinology and AstraZeneca’s manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
AstraZeneca aims to produce tens of millions of doses by the end of the year if the treatment is effective.
The Anglo-Swedish firm intends to work with international partners to distribute the vaccine, including making it available in low- and middle-income countries.
Prof Sir John Bell, a regius professor of medicine at Oxford, said the university and AstraZeneca intended to work together to tackle pandemics for “many years to come”, adding: “We believe that together we will be in a strong position to start immunising against coronavirus once we have an effective approved vaccine.”
The joint announcement helped AstraZeneca’s share price move 1.4% higher on Thursday, to record highs of £83.22, giving the drugmaker a market value of £109bn. It overtook Royal Dutch Shell to become the FTSE 100’s most valuable company.
Shell’s share price tumbled by 11%, giving it a market value of around £103bn, after it slashed its dividend for the first time since the second world war as it seeks to conserve cash to weather the impact of a global collapse in oil prices.