- AstraZeneca and Oxford have published the full coronavirus vaccine study detailing the strong immune response seen in older adults injected with their experimental drug in The Lancet.
- The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for the elderly and induces the desired immune response against the new virus.
- Oxford scientists also said they expect to reveal efficacy results from the Phase 3 study by Christmas.
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are the first two coronavirus vaccine makers to have published incredibly promising interim data, showing that the experimental drugs are more than 90% effective against the novel coronavirus. Moderna had a slight edge over Pfizer (94% vs. over 90%) initially, but then Pfizer released the study’s final results. Rather than going down, the efficacy rate increased to 95% for the BioNTech-made vaccine. Pfizer will seek Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the coming days, and immunization campaigns might start before the end of the year. Moderna shouldn’t be far behind.
The more vaccines that are approved, the better it will be for the global effort to end the pandemic. And a third coronavirus vaccine might now have its final results ready to share with the world by Christmas.
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The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is the other promising frontrunner that entered Phase 3 trials around the same time as those from Moderna and Pfizer. The project encountered a setback in the US when regulators halted the trial for several weeks after a safety incident in Britain. The trial resumed much more quickly in Europe, and US officials eventually allowed it to move on as well. It’s unclear if the delay in the US has impacted AstraZeneca’s schedule.
The company has now released comprehensive scientific research for an announcement it made several weeks ago. The scientists said recently that the drug elicits a robust immune response in elderly volunteers. That’s the kind of news the world needs, as the elderly are the most likely to develop life-threatening complications.
“The robust antibody and T-cell responses seen in older people in our study are encouraging,” Maheshi Ramasamy told Reuters. “We hope that this means our vaccine will help to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society, but further research will be needed before we can be sure.” Ramasamy is a co-lead investigator in the study.
These conclusions were already known, but the scientific community can inspect the data in greater detail now that it’s published in The Lancet. This should further help grow the public’s confidence in vaccines.
What’s more interesting about AstraZeneca’s announcement is the estimate that final data for the Phase 3 trial might be ready by Christmas. The news comes from Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.
“We’re still waiting to get to the point where we can do the analysis to just work out how well the vaccine can protect people, and we’re getting ever closer to that,” Pollard said. “We are optimistic that we’ll be able to do that before Christmas, and obviously, we’ll share that with you as soon as we can at that point.”
Addressing the advance that Pfizer and Moderna got, Pollard, said they’re “not in a rush,” and that it’s not a competition with the other developers.” The scientist did say that Oxford will release headline efficacy data before it was published in an academic journal. That’s what Pfizer and Moderna did so far.
AstraZeneca should have interim data on the vaccine once 53 infections are registered in the groups of volunteers. But the researchers said there are “lots of cases” in Britain, South Africa, and Brazil, so the number of infections in the interim data could differ.
While Pollard is correct in saying the vaccine race isn’t a competition, it’s interesting to note that the first two vaccines to have reported data are both drugs that use a brand new mRNA technology. The Oxford drug uses a viral vector mechanism. A weakened version of a common cold adenovirus found in chimpanzees that can’t replicate in humans was modified to deliver the novel coronavirus’s spike protein into the body. The vaccine should achieve the same goal as the other drugs; only the mechanism differs. Because it targets the same component of the virus, the vaccine should provoke the same desired immune response. It remains to be seen how strong this technology is compared to the mRNA ones. Regardless of the final efficacy rating, the Oxford vaccine might have a different advantage over mRNA competitors. It should not pose similar logistical issues to governments around the world, as the drug will not have the same temperature requirements as the mRNA drugs.