More data needed on AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine trials

This illustration, taken on September 9, 2020, features a test tube labeled vaccine in front of the AstraZeneca logo.

Dadu Rouvik | Reuters

On Friday, scientists at the University of Oxford and World Health Organizations said more data would be needed from AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine trials to explore experts’ concerns and efficacy in the US.

“There is always a problem in announcing scientific results by press release, and that is that you don’t have all the data and people are not really able to see and think properly about the data,” Sir John Bell, The professor of medicine at The Regius Oxford University told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Friday.

AstraZeneca shares plunged this week when the company announced interim results on Monday from its Coronavirus vaccine trials. The British pharmaceutical giant said that its vaccine, which is developing with Oxford, was 70% effective, as it had combined results from two different doses.

A small group of people under age 55 received the full dose after one low dose of the vaccine, and a large group of people received two full doses of the vaccine. The vaccine was found to be 90% effective in the group that received smaller doses, while the larger group showed only 62% effectiveness.

Some American experts, including Monsep Salai, head of the White House’s Operation Tana Speed, said they were concerned about the different ages between the two groups. Amid those concerns, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg on Thursday that the company would likely launch a new study to investigate the low-dose regime.

Bell told CNBC on Friday, “The complete data will be published in the Medical Journal so that people can examine it. Taking a snippet of data is not a useful way to analyze what is really going on.”

Other British government ministers and experts have also supported AstraZeneca’s vaccine, noting that drug regulators who have more information on late-stage clinical trials of the vaccine will eventually have a final say. The UK on Friday asked its drug regulator to assess the vaccine for temporary supplies, meaning the vaccine could be delivered to the country before the end of the year.

The process may take longer in the US amid recent concerns. Bell told CNBC that he predicts Britain may “vaccinate to a great extent” by the spring of next year.

Kate O’Brien, director of vaccination, vaccines and biologics at WHO, agreed with Bell during the organization’s press talks earlier Friday that only “a limited amount can be called for in a press release” and even more information is. How well the vaccine builds an immune response is needed.

“It’s hard to weigh in,” said O’Brien from WHO’s Geneva headquarters. “There is certainly something interesting in what we understand about the press release that has been seen, but there are many reasons that the difference was noticed.”

Dr. Saumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said and AstraZeneca’s test figures “are still too small to come to any definitive conclusions.” Fewer than 3,000 trial participants were in the group who were given small doses of the company’s vaccine, compared to more than 8,000 in the larger group.

“If we are to explore this hypothesis of having better efficacy with lower doses, it will require a trial,” Swaminathan said.

– of CNBC Matt clinch And Natasha Turk Contributed to this report.

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