How expertise and partnerships powered real world impact in the face of a global pandemic.
It’s April 2020. A month has passed since the world locked down and just over two months have elapsed since China released the genetic data of a deadly coronavirus, now known globally as COVID-19.
Years of research and pandemic threat preparedness have enabled Oxford researchers to ready a vaccine for clinical trials. It must now be made available for distribution to billions of people worldwide – but how?
The Oxford Vaccine against coronavirus needs no introduction. In partnership with AstraZeneca, the University’s researchers and a network of partners, it took just eleven months from starting work on the vaccine to getting it into millions of arms around the world.
Beyond the headlines of the many lives the not-for-profit vaccine has saved, there is a lesser-known story of how Oxford University academics and research staff at both the Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG) collaborated to pool their complementary expertise and build a global network of manufacturing and clinical trials partners.
When these vital components came together, the Oxford Vaccine was able to progress to the stage where a partnership with AstraZeneca could be signed. The pharmaceutical giant was able to help solve the complexities of producing the vaccine on a global scale at the quantities required to protect the world from the virus, as well as handle the mountains of paperwork required by regulatory authorities around the globe before the vaccination could be used.
For Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, Director of the OVG, it was this collaboration among colleagues from his group and the Jenner Institute, as well as with manufacturing and clinical trials networks, which meant the University of Oxford was the only university in the world to successfully develop a vaccine, which was then approved by the World Health Organisation.
‘When you look at the coronavirus vaccines, it’s interesting to note they’ve mostly not been developed by the big pharmaceutical companies. They tend to have emerged from biotech businesses and, of course, the University of Oxford,’ he says. ’That’s because big pharma companies cannot always move at the same speed as a team of university researchers who are dedicated to a life-saving mission.
“The key for the University of Oxford was that we have two world-leading vaccine research teams that could come together to develop a vaccine candidate and then conduct large scale international clinical trials. AstraZeneca then proved an invaluable partner in securing regulatory approval and getting the vaccine made and distributed globally.”
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard
Building an international trials network
“The Oxford Vaccine Group has an extensive network so I was able to call the right people to get clinical trials set up.”
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard
Shared vision with partner, AstraZeneca
The University had a strong principle about how the final part of the vaccine’s development would play out. Perhaps unusually for a preventative medicine that was on target to save millions of lives around the world, the University would only work with a pharmaceutical giant that would sign up to a not-for-profit clause. Fortunately, AstraZeneca’s Chief Executive, Pascal Soirot, shared this vision.
AstraZeneca partnered with the University of Oxford to get the vaccine through the intense process of regulatory approval and to accelerate production to get it manufactured and distributed around the world. The manufacturing process for the vaccine was highly complex and needed to be adapted to progress from small batch production to making 2,000 litres at a time.
New manufacturing plants had to be brought in to further scale up production to ensure supply levels were able to meet global demand when the vaccine was approved. This was another area where the partnership with AstraZeneca was invaluable. Its highly experienced regulatory experts were able to handle the time-consuming task of applying for and receiving approval for the vaccine from multiple health authorities around the world.
The partnership’s shared vision means that the vaccine will always be a not-for-profit medicine in the developing world. For richer countries, the altruistic clause has been adapted for new orders placed since the end of 2021 to allow for a modest profit.
‘Our landmark collaboration with the University of Oxford has brought a vaccine to the world in record time with over 2.5 billion doses supplied to more than 170 countries,’ he says.
“This extraordinary achievement was made possible by combining the University’s world-class expertise in vaccinology with AstraZeneca’s global development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities. We are particularly proud of our shared commitment to global, equitable access which has made a critical difference in protecting lives in low and lower middle-income countries and reversing the course of the pandemic.”