AstraZeneca ready to tweak Covid vaccine as it finally draws a profit

AstraZeneca has revealed it is poised to tweak its Covid-19 jab to tackle new concerning variants after it said it had finally started making profit from the vaccine.

The FTSE 100 drugmaker said it was working with Oxford University to monitor Covid-19 variants which may start to evade the vaccines, so it could spot when new jabs needed to be released.

AstraZeneca has so far not been forced to adapt its current vaccine or release a new version, with latest studies showing its jab works effectively against omicron.

Mene Pangalos, vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said: “There’s nothing so far we’re seeing in circulation that has given us pause for concern.”

It comes after AstraZeneca posted record revenues for 2021, buoyed by $4bn (£3bn) worth of sales of its vaccine. 

Altogether, revenues hit $37.4bn (£27.5bn) which included a boost from its takeover of rare diseases company Alexion. It said it was on track to hit $40bn in revenues this year, a year ahead of its targets. 

AstraZeneca said it had delivered more than 2.6bn doses of its vaccine since early last year.

It had pledged to sell the jabs at price during the pandemic. However, in the latest quarter, it started striking deals which allowed it to make a small profit on the vaccine and said the world was now transitioning to an “endemic” phase of the virus.

AstraZeneca said the latest deals were largely in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. 

While vaccination rates in the US and Europe are high, elsewhere in other countries, governments are still trying to get doses out to the public. 

Pascal Soriot, chief executive, said: “The US and Europe account for around 10pc of the world’s population, and there are many people in many countries which need a vaccine.”

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not been approved in the US, following concerns over very rare blood clots.

In Europe, leaders have put limits on who could receive AstraZeneca’s jab following a campaign by French president Emmanuel Macron to cast doubt on the efficacy of the jab. Mr Macron said it was “quasi-ineffective” in those aged over 65. 

Oxford vaccine tsar Sir John Bell has said early criticism from politicians and scientists had “probably killed hundreds of thousands of people”, deterring them from getting the vaccine.

Mr Soriot on Thursday said he had no regrets about how AstraZeneca had handled the pandemic. 

He said: “It’s really hard to regret anything when you’ve saved one million lives around the world, and of course, enable economies in many countries to restart.”

AstraZeneca has signalled sales from Covid medicines are set to decline over the next year, as demand for vaccines dips, although this will be partially offset by sales of its Covid antibody treatment. 

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