The Oxford coronavirus vaccine collaboration AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) is on a par with other candidates being developed around the world, analysts say, but the proof of the pudding will only be in clinical testing outcomes later this year.
AZ and the University of Oxford were among those to have reported data from their AZD1222 potential coronavirus vaccine candidate on Monday, with the collaboration publishing information on its ongoing PhaseI/II clinical trial of 1,077 patients that indicated a similar antibody response after one month to samples from patients who had been previously infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“We believe the data compare well with published data from others, however, clinical outcomes data, expected later this year, will better differentiate among product candidates in development,” said Morgan Stanley.
Analysts at UBS said data published in The Lancet on Monday showed “no more and no less than we have seen with other agents”.
The UBS pharma analysts said the hope for a fast path to a COVID-19 vaccine was understandable and they hope it can happen.
“Condensing first development steps from years into a few months is impressive as is the willingness to put up capital at risk for manufacturing,” they said.
“Unfortunately the human immune system is not simple (if it was we wouldn’t have made it very far).”
So far, for all of the potential vaccines in development, including AZD1222, have not yet shown good correlations between antibody and T-cell responses and vaccine efficacy.
“Only ongoing randomised trials will show if the magnitude of immune response, however it is measured, will suffice to offer (long term) protection.”
The UBS analysts said media claims that AZD1222 offers “dual protection” is as yet unsubstantiated, with other potential vaccines also having shown T cell responses, but whether any will be sufficient is not yet known.
Morgan Stanley’s analysts noted that results from AZD1222 “appear to demonstrate lower levels of COVID-19 neutralising antibodies when compared to the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines”.
However, they acknowledged that there is no real consensus on what levels of neutralising antibodies will be needed to achieve successful long-term outcomes and how critical cellular responses such as T-cell, and natural killer T (NKT) cells will be in generating durable immunity.
On top of that, the various companies are reporting on different assays, patient populations and time frames, which makes comparisons difficult and safety comparisons between the vaccines are also difficult to make, the Morgan Stanley analysts said, with the Oxford vaccine “potentially carrying less reactogenicity than the mRNA approaches”, ie a lower inflammatory response.
Pfizer is expected to soon publish more Phase I/II data for its BNT162b2 vaccine targeting.
Investors should not expect AZ to benefit from this vaccine, both sets of analysts reiterated.
“For those that think the Oxford/AZN collaboration is a stepping stone into becoming a vaccine player, we remind investors AZN has repeatedly said that its involvement in the development of a SARS-Cov2 vaccine is not a commercial venture,” UBS said.
“The company is merely a good corporate citizen to drive the much needed discovery, manufacture and distribution of a vaccine forward.”