AstraZeneca will start clinical trials to test a combination of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine with Russia’s Sputnik V shot aimed at boosting the efficacy of the UK drug maker’s vaccine, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund says.
Trials will start by the end of the year and Russia wants to jointly produce the new vaccine if it is proven to be effective, said the RDIF wealth fund, which has funded Sputnik V, named after the Soviet-era satellite that triggered the space race.
AstraZeneca, in a statement on Friday, said it was considering how it could assess combinations of different vaccines and would soon begin exploring with Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, which developed Sputnik V, whether two common cold virus-based vaccines could be successfully combined.
The co-operation between one of Britain’s most valuable listed companies and the state-backed Russian science research institute highlights the pressure to develop an effective shot to fight the pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people.
The move is likely to be seen in Moscow as a long-awaited vote of confidence by a foreign manufacturer in Sputnik V.
Its Russian developers say clinical trials, still underway, have shown it has an efficacy rate of more than 90 per cent, higher than AstraZeneca’s own vaccine and similar to US rivals Pfizer and Moderna.
Some foreign scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Russia has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for its vaccines and launching large-scale vaccinations with Sputnik V before full trials to test its safety and efficacy have been completed.
Russia has rejected such criticism as unfounded.
The prospective tie-up comes as AstraZeneca, once seen as a frontrunner in the vaccine race, prepares for further tests to confirm whether its shot could be 90 per cent effective, potentially slowing its rollout.
The average efficacy rate was 70.4 per cent in interim late-stage data.
The partnership came about after the developers of Sputnik V suggested on Twitter last month that AstraZeneca try the combination after the British drug maker released interim results from its late-stage trial.
The British drugmaker accepted the proposal, the RFID said on Friday.
“The decision by AstraZeneca to carry out clinical trials using one of two vectors of Sputnik V in order to increase its own vaccine’s efficacy is an important step towards uniting efforts in the fight against the pandemic,” said RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev in a statement.
“We hope that other vaccine producers will follow our example.”
Earlier this week, Kate Bingham, chair of Britain’s vaccine taskforce, said the country would start trials next year using combinations of different kinds of vaccine for the initial and booster vaccinations in the hope that a “mix-and-match” approach might maximise the immune response.
Both projects are using harmless adenoviruses as vehicles to bring genetic instructions into the body to prompt cells to produce vaccine proteins, an approach that has previously been used in an Ebola vaccine.