AstraZeneca Setback Delivers Reality Check on Vaccine Risks

Wednesday - 09/09/2020 10:59
AstraZeneca Plc offices at the Melbourn Science Park in Cambridge, U.K. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
AstraZeneca Plc offices at the Melbourn Science Park in Cambridge, U.K. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
One of the most promising coronavirus vaccines has stumbled, delivering a reality check about the odds of clinical development and the safety risks involved.

The news that AstraZeneca Plc paused tests of its experimental shot after one patient became ill is a routine event for the pharma industry. It could be a harbinger of something worrisome or entirely unrelated to the vaccine.

But in a world crippled by the pandemic, the setback comes as a reminder that vaccines can fail, or worse, that they can sometimes deliver more harm than good -- a disclaimer for politicians and governments promising that a Covid-19 fix is around the corner. Drugmakers just this week pledged to make safety a priority and take the time necessary to let science prevail.

The halt “shows the perils of rushing to market,” said Sam Fazeli, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, adding that no vaccine candidate is immune to such misfortunes, especially now that the experimental products are being injected in tens of thousands of people in the last crucial phase of clinical tests.

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Astra’s situation reinforces the need for discipline that comes with following the traditional testing process. Yet that’s no easy message for people waiting for progress after months of lockdowns and economic uncertainty.

Independent researchers are poring over the one patient’s unexplained illness, which took place in the U.K. arm of the test, to determine whether it happened by chance or as a result of the treatment, according to Astra. 

The halt “shows that the system works,” said Ugur Sahin, the chief executive officer of rival vaccine maker BioNTech SE. Physicians running the trial and other experts will now assess the case, and if no strong connection to the vaccine is found, the study will probably continue with special measures in place to detect other such cases, he said in a telephone interview.

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 Keywords: Covid-19

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