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Few people cannot have heard of AstraZeneca (AZN). It’s the pharmaceuticals company whose name is fast-becoming synonymous with the Coronavirus and is probably destined to either forever be known as the company that created The Vaccine - or for failing to.
With the latest talk of a vaccine possibly being made available to healthcare workers possibly at the end of this year and the potential for a nationwide roll out in the second or third quarter of 2021, there is a lot riding on AstraZeneca’s shoulders right now. Assuming it is the AstraZeneca vaccine that’s being talked about.
After all AstraZeneca is not alone. There are more than 150 coronavirus vaccines in development worldwide. Some 40 or so are in clinical trials and some, like those in China and Russia, are already being administered to the general population of those countries.
However, while there are currently nine vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials, AstraZeneca’s is very much seen as a frontrunner. The vaccine - known as AZD1222 - uses an adenovirus that carries a gene from one of the proteins in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The adenovirus is designed to induce the immune system to generate a protective response against SARS-2. Being developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford, it has very recently been found to trigger protective antibodies and T-cells in older age groups, as well as younger people, which is an encouraging development.
The outcome of the trials is being closely watched around the world. But it has not gone without a hitch. The US arm of the Oxford/AstraZeneca study was recently given the go-ahead to resume, having been halted since 6 September after a participant developed neurological symptoms. It was put on hold in September after a suspected serious adverse reaction in a participant here in the UK. The first coronavirus vaccine in Phase 3 trials to suffer such an incident.
There is a lot riding on AstraZeneca’s success. Critically for the company and its investors, it has already signed several supply and manufacturing deals with companies and governments around the world. So, if the vaccine is The One, it should be good news commercially for AstraZeneca too.
But AstraZeneca has been insistent that its development of a vaccine is a public health emergency, not a profitmaking opportunity and has pledged to sell the vaccine “at cost”. It has declared that more than $1 billion of its costs incurred so far, for example for costs relating to regulatory submissions and distribution, have not been related to manufacturing. It has so far not said how much it costs it to make the vaccine.
However, according to a report in the Financial Times newspaper just this week, it says that having spoken to what it calls people with knowledge of the contract, AstraZeneca’s deal with Oxford University “allows it to make as much as 20% on top of the cost of goods for manufacturing the jab”.
Thursday’s year-to-date and third quarter results briefing will be closely watched for any further news on the vaccine. But news just in reminds us that AstraZeneca also has a raft of other treatments for all sorts of illnesses, from cancer to diabetes, in its pipeline. Most recently it has announced that Chinese health authorities had updated the label for Forxiga to include data from a clinical trial showing the drug 'significantly' reduced heart failure or death in type-2 diabetes patients. And in a separate announcement, it released news that its gastric cancer drug candidate has received supplemental biologics license application and also been granted priority review in the US.
No doubt AstraZeneca will also use Thursday’s update as a reminder that it is working on more than ‘just’ a coronavirus vaccine.
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