AstraZeneca announced that the vaccine they jointly produced with researchers at the University of Oxford had reached its 2 billionth jab.
Additionally, a new paper, published in collaboration with AstraZeneca in Biotechnology and Bioengineering, tells the story of how a key discovery just before the start of the pandemic unlocked the possibility of large-scale manufacturing.
AstraZeneca has faced some setbacks in the last year, from slow deliveries in Europe to rare side effects and lower efficacies than mRNA counterparts, leaving regulators in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe hesitant to scale up its delivery. As demand for vaccines in Western countries has waned, AstraZeneca have delivered more jabs overseas.
Today, the vaccine is produced in fifteen different countries, with jabs having been delivered in over 170 countries. The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker initially rebuffed pressures to make a profit on its 2 billion vaccines, while its rivals netted billions in revenues. This year, AstraZeneca is set to make a loss on the vaccine of 3 cents per share, according to the Financial Times. They recently announced they would transition to obtaining a “modest” profit from sales of the vaccine.
Despite its extensive experience of vaccine development, the University had never manufactured more than a few thousand doses of any single vaccine until 2020. The Oxford team, headed by Dr. Sandy Douglas, followed a three-step process to take the vaccine out of the laboratory and into the arms of hundreds of millions in need.
First, in January and February 2020, researchers experimented with a simple process to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine. Second, they persuaded manufacturers in the UK, India, China, and Europe to start prepping the vaccine, well before the first clinical volunteer had even been approved. They “franchised” the vaccine, which meant they outsourced production to different sites throughout the world to ensure vast distribution across multiple countries in need. Third, researchers forged a vital partnership with AstraZenaca in May 2020, which allowed them to tap into the pharmaceutical giant’s immense resources and ramp up production at an industrial scale.
The researchers believe the success of the “franchise” strategy provides a template for remedying global vaccine shortages in future pandemics. The same process can be applied to other adenovirus-based vaccines, helping to close gaps in equitable access to vaccines.