Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi, Julie Hyman, and Myles Udland speak with AstraZeneca EVP of Biopharmaceuticals, Ruud Dobber, about the company’s COVID-19 vaccine.
JULIE HYMAN: AstraZeneca and Oxford University are out with new data about their experimental coronavirus vaccine. We are joined now by Ruud Dobber. He is head of AstraZeneca US and the executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals. Our Anjalee Khemlani who covers pharma is with us as well.
So how are we to read this data out today? I know there's a little bit of confusion on Wall Street because there is a headline number that says on average it was 70% effective in preventing coronavirus but then if you dig down into the data there's a smaller subset where you did the dosage differently and raised the efficacy. How should we be interpreting this data?
RUUD DOBBER: Yeah, so let me try to do my best in order to simplify. So in fact, we have tested two dosing regimens in the study in the UK and in Brazil. One was with half the dose and then the full dose as a boost and the other one was full dose, full dose. Overall, it's clear that irrespective of the dosing scheme that the vaccine is highly effective. Having said that, the half dose, full dose regimen had an efficacy up to 90% So that's the first good news because if you have a half a dose, in principle you can vaccinate many more people than we originally planned. So that's the first good news.
The second good news is that irrespective of the dosing scheme clearly, no one got ill in such a way that they had to go to the hospital or that they were developing a severe disease, including death. So overall, I think that the data set is very comprehensive and very positive.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Ruud, Anjalee here. Looking at that difference of dosing, what does that translate to for the US trial because of course, that is what will really impact our audience and our population. So will that shift any at all? And also did the pause in the trial affect how you can go forward with the US trial?
RUUD DOBBER: Yeah, let me try to update you where we are from a US perspective. So the US trial will have more than 30,000 participants. At the moment we have vaccinated roughly between 10,000 and 11,000 people. So later in the week we will engage with the FDA where we are going to show them the data, also the publication we are expecting to have later in the week as well. So that everyone can see the full data set we have announced this morning. And then, of course, based on the interaction with the FDA, we will decide whether we are going to add an additional arm in the US study with a half dose and then a full dose as a as a boost. So let's wait and let's be a bit patient but we will engage with the FDA in the course of this week.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: One of the other things that has been pointed out is the trial design has been a little bit different. We've of course, talked so much about health disparities as a result of this virus. Can you explain a little bit more about what you're doing in the trial to really address that?
RUUD DOBBER: Yeah, that's another excellent question. So we are performing trials across the world. I've already mentioned the UK, Brazil, but also in South Africa, in Japan and in the United States. And in the United States we are including a high percentage of the minority groups, the African-Americans, the Hispanics, in order to make sure that we can make an assessment that the vaccine is effective across differences in ethnicity as well as differences in age.
JULIE HYMAN: And Ruud, on a related note, I know that AstraZeneca and Oxford have said that they would provide the vaccine at low or no cost to some areas of the globe. Also, of course, the vaccine you're developing doesn't have some of the same distribution challenges in terms of temperature necessities as the other. What are the implications if say in the United States the tougher vaccine and perhaps more expensive vaccines are being distributed, I'm talking about a hypothetical case in which the Pfizer vaccine, BioNTech vaccine is widely distributed, and then in the developing world, it's your vaccine. Are there any implications where one type of vaccine is widely distributed in one geographic place and another in another geographic place?
RUUD DOBBER: Let me first take the opportunity to say that we are extremely happy that multiple vaccines are available for so many people around the world suffering from the fear of a COVID-19 infection. We need to have more vaccines available, so that's the first thing.
The second piece is we're not competing among each other. We are competing against the virus. And as such I don't believe at all that only the AstraZeneca vaccine will only be applicable in low income countries. I think this vaccine is highly suitable for people in the United States, as well as in Europe but equally, it's highly suitable for participants in developing countries.
The storage is indeed very easy. A fridge is enough in order to secure the stability of the vaccine. The distribution as a whole is very simple. So we feel bullish that this vaccine can help so many people around the world in order to make an end about this terrible crisis, not only from a health perspective, but clearly also from an economic perspective.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: On a little bit of a lighter note, this is in fact a really great example of when companies are congratulating each other and the whole industry seems to be working together. How do you separate that when you're talking about the different types of technologies, knowing that one has a benefit over the other? Is there absolutely no competition, especially looking at the global level where AstraZeneca really does have a large promising market.
RUUD DOBBER: Yes, of course, we are competing but once again this is such an exceptional situation that we also need to learn from each other. And that means that we are disclosing our data as soon as it is available. Later this week we can expect a publication of our data in much more detail. Of course that's important in order to create confidence in societies but it's also very important to showcase this towards the wider scientific audience, including our other companies. This is an exceptional situation and companies they need to work together in order to try to make an end of this terrible crisis sooner than later.
JULIE HYMAN: Ruud, there will be other pandemics. Has this situation given you optimism about how the global community can attack them and what do you think the biggest thing that perhaps we could do better next time from a global health perspective, the next time that there is a pandemic?
RUUD DOBBER: Yeah, it's a great question and a very big question as well. I truly believe that we need to work on surveillance programs in a much more condensed way. What can we do across the world to pick up new pathogens?
Equally I think what we have learned from this terrible crisis is that we need to be ready as societies around the world, that we have platforms available. And once again I would like to congratulate Moderna and Pfizer for the fact that they have developed a complete new platform, the messenger RNA platform. Equally the investigators and the developers in Oxford are using so-called vector platform. I think those platforms can also be used hopefully in the future if other pathogens are with us in order to react even quicker than we have done today.
JULIE HYMAN: Here's hoping. Ruud Dobber, is head of AstraZeneca US and the executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals there. Thank you so much for your time and talking about obviously this very important effort. We wish you all the best in that effort thank you so much.
RUUD DOBBER: Thank you.