As AstraZeneca reports today that 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been released for supply, Oxford University scientists explain how it was possible to make as much of the vaccine in less than a year and the unprecedented strategy to improve it the international justice of enter.
Despite its extensive experience in vaccine development, the university had never manufactured more than a few thousand doses of a single vaccine by 2020. A new paper, published in partnership with AstraZeneca in Biotechnology and Bioengineering, tells the story of an important discovery just before the start of the pandemic opened up the possibility of mass production.
Dr. Sandy Douglas, who led the team that made the discovery, said:
“When the pandemic started, we were deeply concerned that we would not be able to get this vaccine out of university laboratories and into the real world. The answer came in three steps.
“First, in January and February 2020, we found an easier way to make large quantities of this type of vaccine. Simplicity was critical as it allowed the vaccine to be manufactured in existing factories with existing equipment.
“We immediately took the second step, convincing manufacturers with suitable factories in the UK, Europe, India and China to start preparing to make the vaccine even before it was administered to the first volunteer in the clinical trial . We were concerned that poorer countries would be at the bottom of the queue for COVID vaccines, so we developed a plan to “franchise” manufacturing to many locations around the world. In many countries, a franchise product is made in huge quantities using the same recipe. This is standard in many industries, but it has never been tried on a brand new vaccine before.
“The third important step was the university’s partnership with AstraZeneca in May 2020. It was critical for us to have a partner who had the resources to ramp up production on an industrial scale and share our priority of global equitable access. AstraZeneca’s willingness to do this has been fantastic. ‘
Technological advances in the new method include “feeding” a specific mixture of nutrients to the cells that make up the vaccine so that more vaccine can be made in each batch. This avoids the use of complex equipment that the previous leading method of making adenovirus-based vaccines required to keep cells healthy, but which very few factories around the world can use.
The combination of this technical advancement with AstraZeneca’s adoption of the team’s “franchise” technology transfer model has enabled the manufacture of vaccines on a globally relevant scale through a global supply network of more than 25 proven manufacturing organizations.
AstraZeneca and its partners have released two billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, to more than 170 countries on seven continents. About two-thirds of this went to low- and lower-middle-income countries, including more than 170 million doses delivered to 130 countries through the COVAX facility.
“If the pandemic had started even two months earlier, we would not have had a manufacturing process. Without a manufacturing process, I think we would have struggled to convince a large company like AstraZeneca that our vaccine was more than an academic curiosity, ”said Douglas. “Without a partner, the vaccine would never have reached the people who need it.”
This paper shows a page of the university’s vaccine work that has not yet been widely reported. Manufacturing might not be considered glamorous, but the number of doses made and where they’re made will determine how much impact a vaccine can have in the real world. I think millions of people around the world owe their lives to the two billion doses produced as a result of this collaboration between our researchers and AstraZeneca. “
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, Oxford University
The combination of this new approach with the global presence and commitment of AstraZeneca has enabled the unique properties of manufacturing and supplying this vaccine worldwide:
- The vaccine is manufactured in 15 countries
- The vaccine is used in over 170 countries
- Most of the product has been used in low and middle income countries
Pam Cheng, Executive Vice President, Global Operations and IT at AstraZeneca, said: “Producing two billion doses of the vaccine in less than 12 months from initial approval would not have been possible without the combined effort of so many: our AstraZeneca colleagues around the world . ” , our partners at the University of Oxford, our network of contract manufacturers, international organizations and governments around the world. We are very proud of this important milestone and the hard work continues as we continue to accelerate our performance to continue to play a key role in ending the pandemic. ‘
The same manufacturing process could be used to make other adenovirus-based vaccines and speed up the response to a future pandemic. In a broader sense, the researchers believe that the success of the internationally distributed manufacturing strategy provides a template that can be followed to allow equitable access to other vaccines.