The UK will receive first access to the Oxford University SARS-CoV-2 vaccine currently in clinical trials and part of a development and commercialization deal with AstraZeneca. Assuming the vaccine actually works, the British tripartite (Oxford, AstraZeneca and UK government) funds the making of 30 million doses for the UK by September 2020. Recently announced by UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma—representing the government with more outlay of capital: an initial £84 million for accelerating vaccine development on top of the already committed £47 million in cash. Mr. Sharma feels good about the progress and reports another vaccine effort over at Imperial College London also looks promising. The UK government official, however, had to remind the public that there is a chance the vaccine won’t work and emphasized unfortunately there is a possibility that there might never be a COVID-19 vaccine. Hence, he also reminded that the UK government was monitoring at least six drugs designed to treat SARS-CoV-2.
COVID-19 in the UK
The UK was hit hard with 261,184 total cases along with 36,914 deaths associated with the novel coronavirus. Although the UK’s 67 million places it as a medium sized nation, it ranks second only to America in total COVID-19 related deaths beating out third place Italy, Europe’s’ true epicenter.
UK Vaccine Task Force
Sharma was associated with the UK vaccine taskforce back in April, that consists of the government, universities and industry in a bid to position the UK as a COVID-19 vaccine research leader. The Business Secretary reported on the rapid pace of progress supported by dynamic, cooperation and collaboration in support of “two of the world’s frontrunners” in the form of Oxford and Imperial College London.
Vaccine Clinical Trials
Commencing on April 23, Mr. Sharma reported that the vaccine trials are conducted at Churchill Hospital in Oxford. He reported that Imperial College London’s vaccine clinical trial would start human trials in June. The Oxford University vaccine-focused clinical research program has been “unprecedented” given the complexity, scale and speed of progress, reported Sharma. The Imperial College vaccine program continues to make progress with a study planned by mid-June and larger trials to commence in October.
Meanwhile the Imperial College London vaccine heads toward a clinical trial led by Robin Shattock, in an effort to develop a self-amplifying RNA vaccine against COVID-19.
The New Funding
With £84 million transferred from the government to the vaccine programs, Oxford University can ramp up production capacity with AstraZeneca should the current trials prove successful: the government can support dosing of the UK population immediately. Moreover, some of the monies are allocated to Imperial College London for the launch of a Phase III clinical trial in the fall. In total, Sharma reported in a daily Downing Street press conference that the UK government has committed £250 million pounds toward the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Specifically, £66.5 million is awarded to the University of Oxford vaccine while £18.5 million goes toward the Imperial College London effort.
Overall, the UK government has committed £388 million to the international drive to develop COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.
Government Involvement with AZ & Oxford: UK First Access
Moreover, the UK government has been instrumental in the Oxford University and AstraZeneca global licensing and commercialization deal. Hence, with vaccine success, it is certain that AstraZeneca would make 30 million doses available by September: part of an overarching deal to produce 100 million doses.
Hence, the government representative declared the UK (and her residents) would have first access but that the deal was designed in such a way that they seek to make the product (again, if it works) available to other developing countries at the lowest possible cost. Undoubtedly, America fits into the picture as the U.S. government, under Project Warp Speed, has allocated $1 billion or so to AstraZeneca!
Sharma recently updated on a collaborative UK program to produce drug treatments targeting COVID-19. He reported on six drugs as part of the “Accord” program that have entered initial clinical trials. The ACcelerating COVID-19 Research & Development platform (ACCORD) is currently funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). ACCORD brings together a single, UK-wide clinical trial platform provided by the clinical research company IQVIA and the UK’s leading research expertise via the National Institute for Health and Research, to rapidly test potential drugs through early stage clinical trials and feed them into the UK’s large-scale COVID-19 studies, such as the RECOVERY trial, currently one of the world’s largest randomized controlled clinical trials for a COVID-19 treatment.
The first drug in the “fast-track” in this program include Norway’s BerGenBio’s bemcentinib.