U.K.-based pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said Tuesday it will suspend clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine it developed with Oxford University after a British subject fell ill. The decision will affect the company’s just-started so-called Phase 3 trial, which recruited 30,000 volunteers in the U.S. after 10,000 subjects in the U.K. over the summer.
Seemingly destined to be the first company to offer the vaccine, it said it would be ready to produce it in the autumn and if the trials proved conclusive, the drug was approved. Following the latest incident, an independent committee will now review safety data before the trial can resume.
– The British company’s shares fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday on the news amid generally upbeat European markets, as measured by the Stoxx 600 index.
– The suspension of the AstraZeneca trial was not necessarily a “setback” but a “normal part of vaccine development,” U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in an interview Wednesday, adding, “It’s not the first time this has happened with the Oxford vaccine, it’s standard procedure in clinical trials.”
– Prior to AstraZeneca’s announcement, its CEO and top executives from eight other big pharma companies –
Johnson & Johnson JNJ,
– had pledged on Tuesday that they would “stand united with science” and seek approval for the COVID-19 vaccine only after “demonstrating safety and efficacy” through Phase 3 clinical studies.
– The unusual announcement by Big Pharma comes amid concerns that the Trump administration may try to push one or more COVID-19 vaccines through the approval process, such as by granting emergency use authorizations earlier than science might require, in order to gain an advantage in the presidential election.
The outlook. AstraZeneca‘s setback is just one example of the cold water that could pour cold water on high hopes for a vaccine in the coming months. In an election year in the U.S., as viruses surge again in Europe, pharmaceutical companies want to make sure politics don’t interfere with science – and safety. And governments won’t try to rely on them as purveyors of good news against an otherwise gloomy autumn backdrop.