AstraZeneca boss calls for UK to provide new Covid-19 medicine to the vulnerable

AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot has called on the government to provide access to its Covid-19 medicine Evusheld, saying it’s a “sad situation” that Britain is one of the few developed nations not to have ordered the drug, designed for those with poor immune systems.

His comments came as the company flagged up declining sales of its Covid vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford. Strong performances by other medicines for cancer, diabetes and other conditions catapulted overall sales 60% higher to $11.4bn (£9bn) in the first three months of the year, despite the pandemic affecting cancer diagnosis rates.

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Last month, the firm received UK regulatory approval for its long-acting Covid-19 antibody treatment Evusheld, in a boost to its coronavirus portfolio. Aimed at preventing Covid infections in immunocompromised people who cannot be vaccinated, Evusheld had already been approved in the US, France and other countries. The US government has ordered 1.7m doses.

It is a combination of two long-acting antibodies that works by binding to the spike protein on the virus’s membrane that causes Covid-19, preventing it from attaching to and entering human cells.

“The UK is probably one of the rare developed countries in the world that has not ordered Evusheld. It’s a sad situation, quite frankly, because people who are immune-compromised are really suffering from the Covid crisis,” Soriot said, adding they were at greater risk now that Covid restrictions have been lifted.

“They also represent a pretty large proportion of the people who are hospitalised for Covid, so they do need access to this medicine.”

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker made sales of $1.1bn from the Covid jab between January and March, and $469m from Evusheld. It has moved away from not-for-profit pricing in new Covid vaccine contracts, but insists that it still supplies it at affordable rates. It reiterated that revenues from the jab are set to decline in coming quarters.

Soriot explained: “We are no longer in a period of scarcity of vaccine supply. We have oversupply everywhere in the world, so what’s out there needs to be used, and then we’ll be able to get a better sense for reordering.”

He said the vaccine had shown itself to be a “very strong booster”. The jab has not yet received approval in the US, and Soriot said the company remains in discussions with the US regulator, and hopes to wrap these up soon.

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