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AstraZeneca to develop, manufacture Oxford University's COVID-19 vaccine

AstraZeneca PLC, which has teamed up with fellow U.K. drug giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC to aid the government's effort against COVID-19, said it has now joined forces with the University of Oxford to help the development and distribution of its experimental vaccine.

Known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the vaccine is being developed by Oxford's Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group. Results of a phase 1 safety trial — which launched on April 23 — may be available next month and late-stage trials should take place by the middle of this year, AstraZeneca said in a statement, which did not disclose the financial terms of the deal. Cambridge, England-based AstraZeneca, which is mostly focused on cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, would be responsible for the vaccine's development and worldwide manufacturing and distribution.

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies around the world are pooling resources, sharing patent libraries and striking industry alliances in a bid to find effective diagnostics, therapies and vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Philanthropic bodies including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust have stepped in with funding and expertise, but Europe lags behind the U.S., where the Biomedical Advanced Research And Development Authority has been instrumental in helping to expand the limited capacity to manufacture the highly technical shots. U.K. efforts against the pandemic have been hampered by a lack of effective diagnostic tests, an issue that both AstraZeneca and GSK the world's biggest vaccine manufacturer have assisted by establishing a laboratory at Cambridge University.

"U.K. life sciences companies already working on key elements of manufacturing, through the BioIndustry Association taskforce, look forward to working with AstraZeneca on the vital development and scale-up of the Jenner COVID-19 vaccine. Their experience adds valuable industrial heft to this vital development programme," BioIndustry Association CEO Steve Bates said in an emailed statement. "Any single development programme carries risk, so it is vital the U.K.'s manufacturing capability is able to work at speed on whatever emerges as the most viable vaccine or therapeutic candidate."

The Wellcome Trust said there is an "urgent need" to fill the global funding shortfall of at least $8 billion for development into vaccines, as well as treatments and tests. "We need a vaccine that will work for the world, and any advances must be available to all countries equally, without exception. For as long as COVID-19 is out of control somewhere, it is a threat everywhere," Charlie Weller, head of vaccines programme at the research charity, said in an email.

The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca already have a basic research alliance and Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca's executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D, said he was "hugely excited" to be working with the institution on advancing a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, together with companies like Vaccitech Ltd.