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AstraZeneca says new variant-fighting Covid jab ready by autumn as annual profits soar

The pharmaceutical giant is ramping up production of the current Oxford/AstraZeneca to 200 million doses a month by April.

ASTRAZENECA HAS SAID it is on track to develop a Covid-19 vaccine against new strains of the disease by the autumn as it revealed its annual profits have more than doubled.

The group is aiming to start clinical trials for its new jab in the spring so that vaccination programmes can begin before next winter.

It is cutting the time needed to reach production at scale to between six and nine months, it added.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot said the company’s current vaccine is thought to provide a “good level of protection” against severe disease caused by the new variants, such as the Kent and South African strains, but will need to be adapted to prevent milder symptoms.

The announcement came as the company reported pre-tax profits of 3.92 billion US dollars for 2020 as the success of new medicines saw total sales hit 27 billion US dollars  – a rise of 10%.

The profits haul marks a significant rise on the 1.55 billion US dollars seen in 2019, despite AstraZeneca offering its coronavirus jab on a not-for-profit basis.

But the vaccine helped boost revenues over the year, contributing 2 million US dollars to total turnover.

AstraZeneca said it is set to deliver 100 million doses of its current vaccine globally in February, doubling to 200 million a month by April.

Mr Soriot said the UK should start seeing a decline in hospital admissions from the disease “very soon”, with the Government’s rapid vaccination programme expected to start having a marked impact from March.

The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine team were given a boost on Wednesday when scientists advising the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended the use of the jab in all adults.

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It came after a number of countries opted not to give the jab to those over the age of 65.

The vaccine developers have come under pressure recently, in particular oversupply issues in the European Union.

Mr Soriot said it is important not to lose sight of the “big picture”.

“One hundred million doses in February means 100 million vaccinations, which means hundreds of thousands of severe infections avoided and it also means thousands of deaths that are avoided,” he said.

“We’re going to save thousands of lives and that’s why we come to work every day as individuals.”

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