Keeping tabs on pharma: Tensions rise between AstraZeneca and EU over vaccine delays and R&D innovation challenge developed to improve healthcare opportunities

The European Commissioner for health and food safety addresses the dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca amid the delivery delay of Covid-19 vaccines

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Combatting the Covid-19 pandemic is still at the top of the pharmaceutical industry’s agenda. Announcements of new solutions, therapies and vaccine releases are continuing to grapple the attention of the media and pharma organizations are widening their focus to assess how the pandemic has affected other areas of healthcare such as lung cancer diagnosis.

This week’s pharma round up, uncovers issues in the supply of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine and looks toward an innovation challenge that emerged off the bat of the Covid-19 crisis to transform research and development (R&D).

Covid-19 vaccine supply debate heats up between AstraZeneca and the EU

The European Commission sparred with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca this week after the company announced there would be a delay in delivering the Covid-19 vaccine due to supply problems.

Following AstraZeneca’s announcement in December 2020 to provide the UK with 100 million doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford University, the company have announced plans to cut down deliveries in the European Union (EU) to 31 million doses after its European manufacturing plants were met with production challenges.

Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for health and food safety, said: “AstraZeneca surprisingly informed the Commission and EU member states that it intends to supply considerably fewer doses in the coming weeks than agreed. This new schedule is not acceptable to the EU.”

The EU said it expected the drug maker to deliver the agreed amount on time and wants to know exactly which doses have been produced, to what extent and to whom they have been delivered.

Kyriakides said: “Not being able to ensure manufacturing capacity is against the letter and spirit of our agreement. The EU has supported the rapid development and production of several vaccines against Covid-19 with a total of €2.7bn (US$3.2bn) [invested]. We want clarity on transactions and full transparency concerning the export of vaccines from the EU.”

Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive at AstraZeneca, rejected the EU’s allegation that the company failed to honor its agreement. Soriot said vaccine delivery figures in AstraZeneca’s contract with the 27-nation bloc were targets, not firm commitments, and the company was unable to meet them because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity, AP reported. 

Amid the ongoing disagreement, the EU has today published its coronavirus vaccine contract with AstraZeneca to attempt to provide transparency on the issue.

Innovation challenge launched for long-term support of life sciences companies entering the market

The Pistoia Alliance, a global, not-for-profit pharma association, has launched a revised project called the President’s Startup Challenge to transform R&D and healthcare innovation in life sciences.

The annual program works closely with healthcare startups to ensure they are supported to foster innovation efforts and the winners of this year’s challenge will benefit from a new long-term support ecosystem and up to US$20,000.

Dr. Steve Arlington, President of the Pistoia Alliance, said: “Covid-19 has placed worldwide attention firmly on R&D endeavors and the importance of collaboration to accelerate innovation.”

The 2021 launch of the President’s Startup Challenge follows the success of previous winners, including Riffyn Nexus, Medexprim, Cubuslab (now LabForward), Arctoris, and InSilicoTrials. Together, finalists have raised more than $50m in funding and employed more than 200 people.

“Our remodeling of the President’s Startup Challenge reflects the wider efforts of the Pistoia Alliance to support the mission of innovation, from our Innovation Seed Fund to digital health hackathons. After all, life sciences innovation cannot take place in isolation; it requires the whole industry to work together. Through our revised challenge, we hope to make our members aware of this need, and encourage their organizations to actively get involved,” Arlington added.

David Proudlock, Innovation Consultant at the Pistoia Alliance, said: “As the world economy hopes to emerge from the pandemic more resilient, 2021 has rightly been dubbed the “year of the startup”, with particular room for innovation across R&D. However, simply funding startups is no longer enough to ensure their success, which is why we’re calling on organizations and academia to come together and support new ideas generation in the long term.”

SmartLab Digital will return for its fourth consecutive year and new for 2021 will be the event’s first-ever live debate with experts from Janssen, Boehringer Ingelheim and LabTwin. Sign up to save your seat at the debate session now and hear what our experts have to say about using automation and argumentation technology in the lab.