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AstraZeneca signed up to deliver U.K. shots first. Now it aims to supply COVID-19 vaccine worldwide: report

AstraZeneca, partnered with the University of Oxford on a leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate, has already inked a deal to supply millions of doses to the U.K. Now, the drugmaker is scouting for partnerships to make the potential vaccine available worldwide.

The drugmaker is in talks with global groups and governments “with the aim of delivering a safe, effective and globally accessible vaccine as quickly as possible,” a spokesman told Reuters. The company will make “every effort we can [to] deliver these doses at no profit while at the same time working on parallel supply chains to supply the world,” the spokesman added.

Global organizations involved in the talks include vaccine heavyweights at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, the news service reports.

AstraZeneca leapt to the front of the pack of COVID-19 vaccine aspirants when it teamed up last month with Oxford University, which is advancing a leading candidate.

The drugmaker has further agreed to supply initial vaccine doses to the U.K., Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma said on Sunday. 

The U.K. “will be first to get access” if the vaccine is successful, Sharma said at a briefing. Under the deal, AstraZeneca will make 30 million doses available by September.

Meanwhile, the partners are working to make the vaccine available for developing countries at the “lowest possible cost,” Sharma added. AstraZeneca has pledged 100 million doses total for the U.K., he said.

Last week, the Oxford vaccine posted positive data in a preclinical challenge study. A single dose induced a humoral and cellular immune response in rhesus macaques, researchers said, and no pneumonia was observed in the macaques that received the vaccine. The vaccine is already in human testing, and the team has aggressive plans to move it through development. 

Meanwhile, COVID-19 “vaccine nationalism,” or efforts by governments to secure doses for their countries ahead of others, has been a hot topic in recent weeks.  

Last week, 140 world leaders and experts joined together to encourage equal access. In an open letter, they wrote that it’s “not the time to allow the interests of the wealthiest corporations and governments to be placed before the universal need to save lives, or to leave this massive and moral task to market forces.”  

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson touched off a controversy in France by saying the U.S. would be first in line for the company’s vaccine because of its early investment in the project. The stance ran into immediate pushback from high levels of the French government, and Sanofi’s chairman Serge Weinberg later said there would be no favoritism in the potential rollout. 

World leaders recently came together to pledge $8 billion toward research costs for vaccine development. The U.S. didn’t participate, but when President Donald Trump unveiled the country’s ambitious “Warp Speed” effort, he said the U.S. will work with international partners if another country develops a vaccine first, and that the U.S. would likewise share a potential vaccine developed in America. 

Around 100 COVID-19 vaccines are in development, and at least eight are in human testing. Even as researchers advance the programs through the development process, teams are also working through manufacturing concerns to deliver doses quickly if the candidates show efficacy.