Putting your destiny into the hands of a drug company is much like seeking reassurances from an opportunistic pimp. The returns are bound to mixed, dressed up in deceptive language. The promises, however, are always remarkable. The back-breaking pace in finding a vaccine for COVID-19 is something that is bringing out the pimps of industry, notably those in Big Pharma.
One such candidate is the British-based AstraZeneca, which has busied itself with striking vaccine-agreements with alliances and countries across the globe. Last month, a bombastic press release from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it was responding to President Donald Trump’s call made under “Operation Warp Speed” to produce “at least 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine AZD1222” in collaboration with the company to be “delivered as early as October 2020.” AZD1222 is a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by the University of Oxford but licensed to the company.
The agreement between AstraZeneca and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) “will accelerate the development and manufacturing of the company’s investigational vaccine to begin Phase 3 clinical studies this summer with approximately 30,000 volunteers in the United States.” There is much in the way of offsetting costs: BARDA promises up to $1.2 billion in support.
The pharma giant is spreading itself ambitiously. While the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, and the US biotech company Moderna, have also dedicated themselves to the quest of developing a coronavirus vaccine, they seem dwarfed by the entrepreneurial gravitas of AstraZeneca. There are agreements, for instance, with the Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the international vaccine alliance. Similar understandings have been reached with the United Kingdom and the Serum Institute of India, the latter promising up to 1 billion doses.
On Saturday, a deal between four EU countries (Germany, France, Italy and The Netherlands) and the Anglo-Swedish giant was announced capitalising on momentum gathered from the US deal. The agreement between Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance and AstraZeneca, should it be successful, will also make any resulting vaccine available to any EU country willing to participate. The company’s CEO Pascal Soriot could be forgiven for feeling a little cocky. “This agreement will ensure that hundreds of millions of Europeans have access to the Oxford University’s vaccine following its approval.”
The concern here is how uncritically willing government officials are willing to get into the king sized bed that is Big Pharma.