PERTH, Australia – As Victoria suffers through a second COVID-19 wave, bringing the death toll to 430 for Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australians could be among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine through an agreement with Astrazeneca plc.

Under the deal, every Australian would be able to receive AZD-1222, which is being developed with the University of Oxford.

“The Oxford vaccine is one of the most advanced and promising in the world, and under this deal we have secured early access for every Australian,” Morrison said during an Aug. 19 press conference at Astrazeneca’s North Ryde facility in New South Wales.

“We’ve signed a letter of intent with Astrazeneca, which will enable Australia to access – should it be successful – the vaccine for COVID-19 here in Australia, manufactured here in Australia, distributed free to 25 million Australians, in the event that those trials prove successful.

“However, there is no guarantee that this, or any other, vaccine will be successful, which is why we are continuing our discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time to find a vaccine.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there are roughly 160 different types of vaccine candidates against COVID-19 in global development, with about 30 of those in clinical trials.

Astrazeneca Australia President Liz Chatwin told reporters that the North Ryde facility is Astrazeneca’s largest manufacturing facility in Australia, where it makes respiratory treatment Pulmicort Respules that are exported to Asia-Pacific.

“As a company, we've been partnering with Oxford University, one of the leading vaccine candidates, and our ambition is to provide broad and equitable access to this vaccine around the globe at no profit during the pandemic,” she said.

The agreement with the government is a “first step,” she said. Next steps would include contractual agreements that include numbers, timelines, doses and pricing, and securing an agreement with Australian manufacturers to manufacture the vaccine locally.

Taking parallel approaches

When asked why the government was stockpiling the Oxford vaccine first rather than the University of Queensland vaccine, Morrison said that Australia was taking parallel approaches so that it wasn’t “putting all our eggs in one basket here.”

Chatwin said the Oxford vaccine was an adenovirus vector vaccine, which hasn't been produced in Australia before. She said Astrazeneca was in discussions with a select Australian manufacturing partner on the feasibility and technical details.

“This is a massive scale-up activity. We haven't done it before. We're entering into a number of parallel supply agreements around the world with vaccine manufacturers and we're doing this at no profit during the pandemic,” she said.

Morrison said Australia would also ensure early access to the vaccine for countries in “our Pacific family, as well as regional partners in Southeast Asia.”

The government also released Australia’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy, which sets out Australia’s approach to acquire doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines based on research and development, purchase and manufacturing, international partnerships and regulation.

The first announcements under the strategy were the agreement with Astrazeneca to supply the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate to Australia and a consumables contract with Becton Dickinson for the supply of needles and syringes.

Led by Brendan Murphy, secretary of the Department of Health, an advisory group will provide advice on implementing Australia’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy that will drive the government’s work with the states and territories, research organizations, industry, regulators and other countries.

Australia has invested AU$333 million (US$241 million) toward development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics in Australia and around the world, including AU$5 million for the University of Queensland’s “molecular clamp” COVID-19 vaccine, which is in phase I trials in Australia.

Homegrown vaccine and manufacturing

CSL Ltd. and the University of Queensland (UQ) entered into a development agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in June to accelerate development, manufacture and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by the University of Queensland.

CSL will manage advanced clinical trials and the large-scale manufacture of the recombinant vaccine, and together CEPI and CSL will fund the development and manufacture of UQ’s vaccine. Funding contributions will be used to provide support for the pending phase I study led by UQ followed by subsequent late-stage trials.

The initial phase of production of the UQ COVID-19 vaccine would take place at CSL’s manufacturing facilities in Melbourne, Australia.

Following the Astrazeneca deal announcement, CSL released a statement reiterating its commitment to the UQ vaccine candidate, saying that “development of the University of Queensland’s vaccine candidate remains CSL’s priority.”

Negotiations between CSL and the Australian government for a formal national supply agreement are ongoing, CSL said in a statement.

“It is early days before we will know whether the UQ vaccine will be successful and clinical trials are not expected to be complete until mid to late 2021. Pricing will be a matter for discussion between CSL and the institutions and governments procuring the vaccine. Any pricing agreed will be reasonable and reflect the investment required to sustain manufacturing, supply and availability,” CSL said.

CSL Behring Australia, a subsidiary of CSL, began developing an anti-SARS-Cov-2 plasma product to treat people with serious complications of COVID-19 in Australia.

A small batch of COVID-19 immunoglobulin will first be produced to develop tests that detect the presence of the antibodies that fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The second phase will involve a larger batch of COVID-19 Immunoglobulin that will be used in clinical trials in Australia.

CSL Behring and Takeda co-founded the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance industry collaboration to accelerate the development of a plasma-derived hyperimmune globulin therapy for COVID-19. The clinical trial, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is expected to begin soon, said CSL CEO Paul Perreault.

“The plasma industry has created an unprecedented partnership of world-leading companies at the outset of the pandemic in the CoVIg-19 Alliance and Coalition of Coalitions to help develop a reliable, scalable and sustainable plasma therapy to treat COVID-19,” Perreault said.

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