Today, as AstraZeneca reports 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine released for supply, scientists at the University of Oxford explain how it was possible to produce so much vaccine in less than a year , and the unprecedented strategy used to improve international equity of access.
Despite its vast experience in vaccine development, the University had never manufactured more than a few thousand doses of a single vaccine until 2020. A new article, published in collaboration with AstraZeneca in Biotechnology and Bioengineering, recounts how a key finding just before the onset of the pandemic opened up the possibility of large-scale manufacturing.
Dr Sandy Douglas, the leader of the team that made the discovery, said:
“When the pandemic started, we were deeply concerned that we had no way of getting this vaccine out of the university labs and into the real world. The answer came in three steps.
“First of all, in January and February 2020, we found an easier way to make large quantities of this type of vaccine. Simplicity was key, as it made it possible to manufacture the vaccine in existing factories with existing equipment.
“We immediately took the second step, which was to persuade manufacturers with suitable factories in the UK, Europe, India and China to start preparing to manufacture the vaccine, even before it was released. administered to the first clinical trial volunteer. We were concerned that poorer countries were at the end of the queue for COVID vaccines, so we made a plan to “francize” manufacturing at many sites around the world. With a franchise product, huge quantities are made with the same recipe in many countries. This is the norm in many industries, but it had never been tried before for a brand new vaccine.
“The third vital step was the university’s partnership with AstraZeneca in May 2020. It was essential for us to have a partner who had the resources to accelerate manufacturing on an industrial scale and share our priority of a equitable access globally. AstraZeneca’s willingness to do so has been fantastic.
Technical advances in the new method include “feeding” a specific mixture of nutrients to the cells that make the vaccine, allowing more vaccines to be made in each batch. Importantly, it avoids the use of complex equipment that was required to maintain healthy cells in the previous main method of making adenovirus vaccines, but which very few factories in the world are capable of. use.
Combining this technical breakthrough with AstraZeneca’s adoption of the team’s ‘franchise’ technology transfer model has enabled vaccine manufacturing on a global scale, through a global supply network of more than 25 organizations. proven manufacturing.
AstraZeneca and its partners have released to deliver two billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, to more than 170 countries on seven continents. About two-thirds of these went to low- and lower-middle-income countries, with more than 170 million doses delivered to 130 countries through the COVAX facility.
“If the pandemic had started even two months earlier, we wouldn’t have had a manufacturing process. Without a manufacturing process, I think we would have had a hard time persuading a large company like AstraZeneca that our vaccine was more than an academic curiosity, ”said Douglas. “Without a partner, the vaccine would never have started to reach the people who need it.”
This article shows a side of the University’s vaccine work that has yet to be widely reported. The manufacturing might not be considered glamorous, but the number of doses produced and where they are made determines the impact a vaccine can have in the real world. I believe millions of people around the world owe their lives to the two billion doses produced through this collaboration between our researchers and AstraZeneca. “
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford
Combining this new approach with AstraZeneca’s global footprint and commitment has enabled the unique characteristics of the global manufacturing and supply of this vaccine:
- The vaccine is manufactured in 15 countries
- The vaccine is used in more than 170 countries
- The majority of the product has been used in low and middle income countries
Pam Cheng, executive vice president of global operations and IT at AstraZeneca, said: “Producing two billion doses of the vaccine in less than 12 months after first approval would not have been possible without the collective effort of both: our AstraZeneca colleagues around the world, our partners at the University of Oxford, our network of contractors, international organizations and governments around the world. We are extremely proud of this milestone and the hard work continues as we continue to ramp up our production to continue to play a key role in helping end the pandemic.
The same manufacturing process could be used to make other adenovirus-based vaccines, speeding up the response to a future pandemic. More generally, researchers believe that the success of the internationally distributed manufacturing strategy provides a model that can be followed to enable equitable access to other vaccines.