Following a series of setbacks during the pandemic, AstraZeneca announced on Tuesday that it is forming a separate division for vaccines and antibody therapeutics to focus on the COVID-19 vaccine and the development of coronavirus treatments.
According to Reuters, the Anglo-Swedish firm was looking into possibilities for its vaccine business in July and intended to have more information by the end of 2021.
The new division, which will be led by executive vice-president of Europe and Canada, Iskra Reic, will combine research and development, manufacturing, commercial and medical teams, a company spokesperson said.
“The team will be dedicated to our COVID-19 vaccine, our long-acting antibody combination and our developmental vaccine addressing multiple variants of concern, as well as to our existing portfolio for respiratory viral disease,” the spokesperson said.
The decision to set up a new business comes after a tumultuous 18 months for the drug maker, which developed its COVID-19 vaccine in conjunction with Oxford University.
Production problems forced the company to cut deliveries to the European Union this year, prompting the bloc to launch a legal challenge. Governments have also restricted its use among certain age groups due to links to rare blood clots and its application for U.S. approval is taking longer than expected.
But positive results from trials of its antibody cocktail as a preventative shot against COVID-19 have given the company a major boost, potentially positioning it as a supplier of both COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The move indicates AstraZeneca sees a future for its COVID-19 shot beyond the pandemic but shouldn’t be taken as a sign it is planning a full-scale entry into the broader vaccine market, Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Nicholas Hyett said.
“That would require significant new research and development investment, and as yet we have no indication that this is forthcoming,” he said.
AstraZeneca has pledged to supply vaccines at cost during the pandemic. The not-for-profit strategy and challenges with the shot fuelled speculation about whether it would want to keep the business in the long term.
While AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine remained a drag on profits in the second quarter, sales of the shot more than tripled to $894 million from the first three months of the year, making it one of the company’s best-selling products.