The societal impact of the coronavirus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic has been a society-changing event. The world went from the longest economic expansion on record to the fastest recession and fastest bear market of our lives. Due to illness and death, families, workplaces, retail and all forms of entertainment have greatly changed. They have not changed for the better. Hope may be closer than ever.
24/7 Wall St. has been tracking the COVID-19 outbreak with its own maps and its own data for months, but there is also an angle of the business side of this equation. Multiple biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporations are seeking their stake in treating COVID-19. Many advancements now have happened around various aspects of testing for active COVID-19 and for the antibodies. The real victory that awaits is for those companies that can develop a successful vaccine or a follow-on treatment that will cure patients or greatly minimize the impact of COVID-19.
Where the best news, outside of an outright success and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stands right now is that there are three U.S. vaccine trials in Phase 3 studies. All three appear to have some serious benefits, but none are approved yet, and it may be weeks to months before approval and availability. That’s assuming these vaccine candidates perform better in larger studies.
AstraZeneca PLC (NYSE: AZN) announced late on Monday that it has begun enrolling up to 30,000 people who are 18 years old and older across approximately 100 trial centers inside and outside of the United States with its AZD1222 specifically for the prevention of COVID-19. The company has said that AZD1222’s advancement has been supported by safety and immunogenicity across all adult age groups and this U.S. trial funded by the Biomedical Advanced Development Authority (BARDA) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health.
While led by AstraZeneca, AZD1222 was co-invented by the University of Oxford and a spinout company called Vaccitech. The treatment is said to use a chimpanzee viral vector based on a weakened version of a common cold and also contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein. After vaccination, and according to the most recent release, a surface spike protein is produced and this sets the immune system to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if it later infects the body.
As for the great hope prior to AstraZeneca advancing this into Phase 3, it was back in July of this year that the publication The Lancet posted data from interim results from an ongoing Phase 1/2 trial showing that AZD1222 was tolerated and that it generated robust immune responses against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in all evaluated participants. In May of 2020, AstraZeneca received more than $1 billion in support from BARDA to advance this vaccine, and the current Phase 3 study is part of that BARDA funding agreement.
Again, the big issue now is whether these results show the same tolerability and efficacy in larger groups. AstraZeneca is not alone in its quest to defeat COVID-19, as two additional Phase 3 vaccines are underway that also have government funding.