Israel in Talks With AstraZeneca on Coronavirus Vaccine

(Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

The race for a coronavirus vaccine is at its height across the world. On Friday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced the signing of an agreement with Pfizer, and it turns out that they aren’t the only one Israel is dealing with.

According to a report in Globes on Monday, negotiations are also taking place with British company AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca is in the midst of a Phase III trial in the U.K. and other countries after its trial in the U.S. was halted because of the suspicion of side effects in one of the volunteers. The U.S. trial is expected to resume shortly, as is a trial by Johnson & Johnson which was halted under similar circumstances.

In addition to the agreement with Pfizer and the talks with AstraZeneca, Israel has also secured a supply of vaccines from Moderna, which is expected to announce within the next few weeks, perhaps even next week, the efficacy results of the Phase III trial of the vaccine it has developed. Other companies that could publish results in the coming months are German company CureVac and U.S. company Novavax.

In Israel’s chase after a vaccine, a small team has been set up to examine the progress of all the companies involved in developing coronavirus vaccines around the world and to report to Netanyahu and Edelstein. Netanyahu’s approach is to strive for an agreement with every company that demonstrates progress towards producing a vaccine, with the aim of procuring all at once enough vaccines for the entire population.

AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are developing coronavirus vaccines using a technology different from that of Pfizer and Moderna. The idea is to engineer genetically a virus that causes a cold in chimpanzees, but not in human beings, so that it will not actively cause a disease but will present the spike that is characteristic of the coronavirus. Since the technologies are different from each other, Pfizer’s success has fewer implications for AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson than it does for Moderna, but there is cause for optimism about all the vaccines, since Pfizer’s data seem to show that in principle the disease is responsive to a vaccine.

AstraZeneca, which is developing its vaccine in collaboration with the University of Oxford, is first of all committed to the British market, and has already signed agreements with the EU and the U.S., and has given a production license to an Indian company for supply to the Indian market. The company said in the past that it was gearing up to provide some three billion doses of the vaccine if it proved effective and safe.

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