AstraZeneca should still know before the end of the year whether its experimental vaccine protects people against COVID-19, the drugmaker’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said on Thursday, as long as it can resume trials soon.
The British company suspended late-stage trials this week after an illness in a participant in Britain. The patient was reportedly suffering from symptoms associated with a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis.
Soriot said during an online event that AstraZeneca did not yet know the diagnosis, adding that it was not clear if the volunteer had transverse myelitis and more tests were needed.
He said the diagnosis would be submitted to an independent safety committee and this would usually then tell the company whether trials can be resumed.
Soriot said that the potential vaccine, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has flagged as the most promising for coronavirus, that it was usual for a trial to be suspended.
“It’s very common, actually, and many experts will tell you this,” Soriot said, adding, “The difference with other vaccine trials is the whole world is not watching them, of course. They stop, they study, and they restart.”
AstraZeneca would supply vaccines to countries at the same time to ensure a fair and equitable distribution, Soriot said, adding that the company was close to having capacity to produce 3 billion doses at sites set up around the world to prevent governments from restricting distribution.
Shares in AstraZeneca fell on Wednesday after news of the trial’s suspension as some observers raised doubts about the timeline for the rollout of a vaccine to help curb the coronavirus pandemic.