Banking on AstraZeneca’s vaccine

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Good afternoon everyone,

I always considered AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to be, in the words of a tired coronavirus cliche, a “game-changer.”

Looking back, I may have been suffering from a case of excessive local pride.

Last month, we saw that phenomenon surface from U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who, as governor, helped engineer the US headquarters of the recently merged British and Swedish companies to northern Delaware a couple of decades ago.

Several days ago, Carper praised AstraZeneca’s U.S. findings of a trial that showed the vaccine effectively while pointing to the company’s First State presence.

Carper’s joy was short-lived, with a federal drug safety office red-flagging the U.S.trials’ findings over suspicions that the company blended earlier results. AZ responded by adding in more recent results that still pointed to the two-dose vaccine’s effectiveness.

A one-hit wonder

AstraZeneca turned out to be a one-hit-wonder for the northern Delaware economy.

After operating two campuses and employing 4,000, things turned south as patent protection ran out on its blockbuster drugs.

The economic impact of the company was never as massive as forecast. Many employees did not move to the state and instead commuted. The housing stock in north Wilmington never became the hot commodity it has since become.

A tough-minded Frenchman, Pascal Soriot, took over from a former U.S. AstraZeneca executive who, at one point in his career, was based in Delaware. Soriot focused the company on widespread diseases such as cancer and diabetes and unloaded an array of other drugs.

Soriot takes charge

The new CEO moved the headquarters from London to the university town of Cambridge.

In what was a sign of things to come, the headquarters project had more than its share of construction-related. Problems. Still, years into Soriot’s reign, there are signs that the company is turning around, thanks to new drugs.

AstraZeneca still has a headquarters operation in northern Delaware, but employment has shrunk to 1,500, with its Farifax research facilities a distant memory.

The campus is now part of a mixed-use redevelopment project, with the pharma company occupying only a small portion of the site. JPMorgan Chase operates a tech center on the other campus.

Delaware inventive paid off

Contrary to popular myth, state incentives to AZ did pay off, thanks to income tax revenues. Accompanying road improvements in the area were needed, although the case could be made when the money could have been better used elsewhere on I-95.

As far as the AZ/Oxford vaccine is concerned, the list of missteps, overly optimistic press releases, and just plain bad luck is lengthy.

Problems have cropped up in nations where the vaccine got an OK, the most recent being scattered reports of blood clots after vaccinations. Doses for some groups have been paused as regulators look into the issue.

Then we had the debacle in Baltimore, with a contract manufacturer blending AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines. J&J is slated to take over the plant under a federal order after 25 million doses were thrown out.

Add in tensions over distribution among various nations and failed efforts by developing their own vaccines.

AZ is left with a host of headaches that blemished the company’s laudable goal and an Oxford University spinoff to offer the vaccines on a no-profit basis.

A big psychological blow in the states occurred last week when the Biden-Harris administration’s public health point man, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the U.S. could probably live without the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

Supplies of Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J vaccines are growing, and this week, everyone over 16 will become eligible for doses in Delaware.

The same can’t be said for the rest of the world and even our hemisphere, where many nations are banking on the AZ/Oxford vaccine. The vaccine, like J&J doses, can be stored in a refrigerator and is far cheaper than the “Cadillac-Mercedes” Pfizer and Moderna doses.

Let’s hope we don’t see one more big surprise, and AstraZeneca’s vaccine gets an emergency use OK in the U.S., even if we don’t need it.

The rest of the world would dearly love to see the vaccine get Uncle Sam’s blessing.

Despite some setbacks in recent years, the U.S. regulatory process remains the gold standard in vetting new drugs and vaccines. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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