AstraZeneca's AZN decision to pause its late-stage coronavirus vaccine trial has given a boost to rival U.S. drugmakers Wednesday as the race for an effective, and safe, COVID-19 treatment continues to test scientists, researchers and regulators around the world.
The World Health Organization says that around 150 potential vaccines are currently under some form of study, with 34 active human trials taking place from Russian to Bahrain. Several U.S. firms are also in the hunt, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) - Get Report, Moderna (MRNA) - Get Report, Novavax (NVAX) - Get Report and Pfizer (PFE) - Get Report, which said earlier Wednesday that it's eyeing regulatory approval for it mRNA-based vaccine as early as next month.
AstraZeneca's pause of its late-stage study with Oxford University, however, has ignited the race for a workable vaccine heading into the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, which has infected more than 28 million people and claimed nearly 900,000 lives.
“As part of the ongoing randomized, controlled global trials of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, our standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data,” AstraZeneca said in a statement. “This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.'s foremost expert on infectious diseases, told CBS' 'This Morning' program that AstraZeneca's decision to pause was "unfortunate", but a likely necessary "safety valve" in the complicated clinical trials process.
His comments echoed those published in a letter signed by the CEO's of nine pharmaceutical companies yesterday, pledging to 'stand with science' and not rush any potential vaccine to market before proper safety procedures were followed in “large, high quality clinical trials”
“We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved,” the letter said.
AstraZeneca's U.S.-listed shares were marked 2.3% lower in pre-market trading Wednesday, indicating an opening bell price of $53.45 each.
It's rivals, however, were on the rise: Moderna, which kicked-off its 30,000 subject trial in late July, and says its on track to deliver up to a billion doses of its developing vaccine early next year, was marked 4.3% higher at $56.66 each, extending its year-to-date gain to around 189%.
Novavax, whose phase 1 clinical trial results, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed induced immune responses and was generally safe in people aged between 18 to 59, was marked 5.5% higher at $90.01 each.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO) - Get Report, meanwhile, jumped 6.5% to $10.23 each on the strength of early-stage results published last month that showed high levels of coronavirus anitbodies. The group said it hopes to get regulatory approval as early as December.
Pfizer shares were also on the move, rising 1.1% to $36.33 each after it agreed to a deal with the European Union to supply as many as 300 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine, which it hopes will receive regulatory approval as early as next month.
Pfizer, which is working with Germany's BioNTech BNTX to develop its BNT162b2 mRNA-based vaccine, said it could have as many as 1.3 billion doses ready by the end of 2021. The groups reached a $2 billion agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense in late July to provide 600 million doses to the U.S. government.