AstraZeneca is engaged on vaccines with Russian Gamaleya

A laboratory technician oversees the filling and packaging tests for the large-scale manufacture and delivery of the Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222, which was conducted on a high-capacity aseptic vial filling line in Catalent, Anagni, Italy on September 11, 2020.

Vincenzo Pinto | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Friday it would soon be working with Russia’s Gamaleya Institute to investigate whether the two coronavirus vaccine candidates could be successfully combined.

The announcement comes shortly after developers of the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine reached out to AstraZeneca on Twitter late last month to ask if they should try combining the two cold virus-based vaccines to increase effectiveness.

The Russian direct investment fund, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund that financed the development of Sputnik V, said clinical trials of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, combined with its own, would begin by the end of the month.

“The ability to combine different COVID-19 vaccines can be helpful to improve protection and / or accessibility of vaccines. Therefore, it is important to study different vaccine combinations to make vaccination programs more flexible and to allow doctors more choice at the time of vaccine administration, “AstraZeneca said in a statement Friday.

“It is also likely that combining vaccines over a longer period of time will result in improved immunity,” he added.

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, made in partnership with Oxford University, is one of several looking to seek drug regulatory approval as hopes of a mass vaccination campaign to end the pandemic grow.

To date, more than 69 million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus, with 1.58 million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Data published this week in The Lancet Medical Journal showed AstraZeneca’s vaccine had an average efficacy of 70.4%, based on the summary of interim data from late-stage clinical trials. The vaccine was also found to be safe and effective.

Russia has claimed Sputnik V is over 90% effective in preventing people from contracting the virus, citing preliminary results from ongoing studies.

“New level of cooperation”

The collaboration between AstraZeneca and Russia’s state-sponsored science research institute should be seen as a vote of confidence in Moscow’s Sputnik-V vaccine.

In August, Russia became the first country to register an emergency vaccine, despite warnings from global authorities of cuts. It is now being offered to Russians as part of a mass vaccination campaign.

“AstraZeneca’s decision to conduct clinical trials with one of two Sputnik V vectors to increase the effectiveness of its own vaccine is an important step in uniting efforts to combat the pandemic,” said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of Russian direct investment fund said in a statement.

“We welcome the start of this new phase of collaboration between vaccine manufacturers. We are determined to expand this partnership in the future and begin joint production after the new vaccine has proven its effectiveness in clinical trials,” said Dmitriev.

AstraZeneca’s shares were barely changed for Friday’s session.

The Editor in Chief of The Lancet, Dr. Richard Horton told CNBC on Wednesday that AstraZeneca’s vaccine had “a marked comparative advantage” over other leading candidates. He also claimed it was the one who could immunize the world “more effectively” and “faster” than their counterparts.

This is because the AstraZeneca vaccine is believed to be easier to store and distribute than some of the other potential coronavirus vaccines. It’s also cheaper than those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

AstraZeneca was previously criticized for some of the methods used in their phase three vaccine studies and for the age groups tested. Most of the participants tested in AstraZeneca’s study were younger than 55 years old and asked questions about whether the vaccine would be effective in older adults, among those most at risk in the pandemic.

In a peer-reviewed article published Wednesday, the researchers said that older adults would need more reviews.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is a viral vector vaccine based on a weakened version of the common cold virus (adenovirus), which causes infections in chimpanzees. It is designed to prepare the immune system to attack the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 when it later infects the body.

The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a human adenoviral vector-based platform.

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