The relationship between AstraZeneca and the EU has been on edge in recent weeks after production delays have scuttled rollout plans for the British drugmaker’s Covid-19 vaccine. Now, looking to squash worries its production can’t keep up with demand, AstraZeneca is bringing on a new partner it hopes can right the ship.
AstraZeneca has tapped Germany’s IDT Biologika to ramp up immediate production of its adenovirus-based Covid-19 vaccine, dubbed “Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca,” and build long-term capacity to handle fill-finish work for the shot, the British drugmaker said Wednesday.
The partners are looking at “options to accelerate output” of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as soon as next quarter, hoping to quickly fill its 300-million-dose order for the EU. The company began shipping out doses late last week with the goal of distributing an initial 17 million doses before March.
The newest pact underscores AstraZeneca isn’t moving fast enough in supporting its EU order — and that doesn’t begin to address a potential future OK in the US or other parts of the world.
Even so, AstraZeneca is also taking the long view with its partnership with IDT, pledging to build long-term capacity at the manufacturer’s Dessau site for future pandemics. Details are still in the works, both companies said, but AstraZeneca hopes to install five 2,000-liter reactors at the site by the end of 2022 — enough capacity to make “tens of millions” of doses of the Covid-19 shot per month.
AstraZeneca and the EU have squabbled for weeks over supply constraints for the vaccine, with the EU at one point accusing the British drugmaker of ducking a planning meeting. AstraZeneca denied those claims, but did admit that production lags set back plans to meet their distribution targets.
AstraZeneca may have reason to dodge EU regulators after the bloc published a heavily redacted version of the company’s contract with redactions over cost figures that were easily removed by internet sleuths. Among the most noteworthy findings was that the contract itself was worth £870 million, or about $1.19 billion for 300 million doses, including all direct and indirect costs.
The drugmaker and its adenovirus vaccine carrying the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein payload have also fallen behind the curve in terms of efficacy compared with Pfizer and BionTech and Moderna, drugmakers with mRNA-based vacccines that have hit the 90% efficacy mark and higher in preventing severe disease.
Just last week, AstraZeneca rolled out new data for a two-shot regimen showing 82.4% efficacy in preventing symptomatic disease when given given 12 weeks apart, but months after the FDA gave its emergency use nod to Pfizer and Moderna, those results and some squishy earlier data may not be enough to convince US regulators.