AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Still on Track, Says CEO

AstraZeneca says its Covid-19 vaccine could still be ready before year-end, despite putting a trial on pause after one of the participants got sick.

AstraZeneca’s  (AZN) - Get Report CEO said the coronavirus vaccine the company is developing with the University of Oxford could still be ready before the end of the year, despite putting a trial on pause after one of the participants got sick.

Speaking at an online conference Thursday, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said his company was still on track to resume the phase 3 trial and potentially develop a viable Covid-19 vaccine, even after pausing trials after a neurological problem was discovered in one patient.

“What we have here is a special set of circumstances where the whole world becomes involved in the conduct of a clinical trial,” Soriot said on Thursday, noting that independent experts are currently reviewing the patient’s illness to determine if it was linked to the trial vaccine. “The reality is we all have to be very patient and see how it unfolds.”

AstraZeneca last month kicked off Phase 3 testing of its Covid-19 trial vaccine, which involves some 30,000 participants in the U.S. as well as in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa. However, the trial was halted on Monday after one of the trial patients became ill, triggering a wider review of the program.

U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told a Senate committee Wednesday the trial had been halted due to a “spinal cord problem.” Soriot provided a bit more clarity to that, noting on Thursday that investigators were still exploring whether the patient has an unrelated condition called transverse myelitis, which is inflammation of the spinal cord.

A final decision on restarting the trial will be taken by the U.K.'s medical regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which could take place in a matter of days, Soriot said. Until then, all international vaccination sites are on hold.

AstraZeneca is one of more than 30 drug companies racing to develop a viable Covid-19 vaccine. The British drugmaker last month announced the launch of a separate study to evaluate the effectiveness of AZD7442, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that it hopes could lead to both a preventative treatment for Covid-19 and a medicinal treatment for those who have already contracted it.

As of this week, the global pandemic that has sickened more than 27 million and killed nearly 900,000, with nearly 200,000 of those deaths having been recorded in the U.S.

AstraZeneca's American depositary receipts were up 0.89% at $54.12 in trading on Thursday.