First on CNBC: CNBC Transcript: Dr. Ruud Dobber, President of AstraZeneca US and EVP of BioPharmaceuticals, speaks with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” today explaining their positive Covid vaccine results.
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AstraZeneca executive explains positive Covid vaccine results
MEG TIRRELL: So guys, we're going to switch directions right now and bring in Ruud Dobber who is the head of AstraZeneca’s U.S. business and Executive Vice President of Biopharmaceuticals to talk about AstraZeneca and Oxford's vaccine results this morning. Dr. Dobber, thank you for being with us and help us understand these data. I mean, on the one hand, you've got 90% efficacy in one dosing regimen on the other 62% efficacy. Can you organize it so that the 90% regimen will be the one that gets distributed out to the world?
RUUD DOBBER: Yeah, so first of all thank you so much for having me. And we're very excited about the data that we released this this morning. First of all, the study is showing that when you use half dose and a high dose, the efficacy is indeed 90% which is incredibly strong. Equally, even if you use high dose/high dose, it's still a very strong response of over 62%. We believe and we think that the regulator's will focus on this half-dose/ full-dose regimen, but of course it's in the hands of the regulators. But overall, it's a very strong set of data. Equally, I think it's very important to remember that all vaccinated participants didn't develop the disease. So no hospitalization, or any severe disease characteristics caused by COVID-19. So all in all, I think, a very strong set of data. As we all know, the world needs effective Covid vaccines and AstraZeneca and Oxford are very pleased.
TIRRELL: There's one point I really want to ask you about because I was mistaken about it, actually, earlier as I was going through the data so quickly. You say here that there is an early indication that the vaccine could reduce virus transmission from an observed reduction in asymptomatic infections. Tell us about that finding. I mean, are you actually finding that this vaccine could produce what's known as sterilizing immunity, really keeping people from getting infected at all with the virus?
DOBBER: Yeah that's an excellent question. As there are many questions, but one question clearly is the duration of protection and the other question is the question you are asking now about the transmission. We've only seen the data over the weekend so it's very early days. But what we have seen so far is a belief that we can also reduce the transmission of vaccinated people, including asymptomatic participants. So once again, it's still very early days. But what we have seen, and we will see more in the course of this week when the investigators, the clinical trialists, will write their story in a high profile journal. But we are pleased to see what we have seen so far, but I think it's a little bit too early in order to be definite about that piece.
BECKY QUICK: So can you explain just the why on a couple of those issues? I mean, first of all, if people are much less likely to transmit it even if they're asymptomatic of having it, is that because it's a lower viral load that they would walk around with even if they did get it? And in terms of the 90% efficacy that comes with the half dose and then the full dose that comes after that, why? I mean, it would just seem – you would think logically if you're getting a full dose and then a full dose, that you're getting more of the vaccine and therefore you'd have a bigger response. Is it that you get too much of a response with the first one? Why do you think it's more effective when you give less of it?
DOBBER: Yeah, so let me first try to address the first question about the transmission. The thinking here is that if you vaccinate – in this case participants, volunteers – you hope to release neutralizing antibodies. And as a result of the neutralizing antibodies, the virus is no longer effective in order to cause harm in the body. Equally, there are mechanisms of the immune system in order to get rid of the virus. So that's one of the mechanisms which is important in order to reduce transmissions, often in asymptomatic patients. Then your second question about the half dose/full dose – it is very speculative. And of course, we are in close contact with the researchers of the Oxford University. It's a little bit too early, but one of the potential hypotheses is that you're priming the immune system with a relatively low dose or lower dose as a consequence, the immune system is firing against this virus. But equally, I also need to admit that it was a little bit of a surprise to all of us in order to see this difference. We really expected to have a high dose/high dose very effective. It's very effective, but the half dose/full dose, clearly has a better efficacy, and we will do more research in the weeks to come in order to better understand the mechanism here.
BRIAN SULLIVAN: And Dr. Dobber listen, it is great news. Congratulations. It looks like we're going to have a couple of hopefully working vaccines very soon. Take us through the next step. I'm sure you and your team are hopefully working with governments, state, local officials for a global coordinated response to getting it out. Take us through the thought process. First responders get it first. Hopefully then teachers. We have to get the kids back into school. Irreparable damage is being done to millions of families around the world, obviously. Then the most vulnerable. Outside of that, who will make the decision about how these vaccines are distributed? Because you know – by the way the Regeneron CEO sort of joked in the previous interview, rich people are going to be kind of like, “hey, how do I get on the list?” How do we make sure there's an equitable and ethical distribution of these vaccines?
DOBBER: Yeah, thank you so much for this very fair and good question. So first of all, let me go back to the first step we need to make. And the first step we need to make, clearly, is to go now to the regulators. So in the course of this week, we will show the data to the UK regulator, the European regulator, and also to the FDA in the United States. So that's a very important first proof points. The second part is of course that we need to do the filing of the dossier and then the regulator needs to have an independent assessment of all the data we are showing them. But coming back to your point about who's going to get the vaccine, AstraZeneca made a huge commitment to provide the Covid vaccine at no profit and in an equitable way. So we have supply chains in the United States, in the UK, in Europe, and also in the developing countries in the world. So that's a very important part of our strategy to make this vaccine available to all the people around the world, and that this is not reserved only to the rich countries or the rich people.
TIRRELL: Well Dr. Dobber, I know you've struck a number of manufacturing partnerships in order to have monumental supply of this vaccine. I want to ask you just about these data again, just to really try to understand it better. You mention one hypothesis for why this dosing regimen produced such better efficacy. Another hypothesis I've heard about this morning is that there might have been different manufacturing processes for the different doses you used and so there could have been different quality in terms of the antigen that you were showing people's immune systems with the vaccine. And you know, that perhaps led to this better efficacy with one regimen versus the other. So, I wonder if you could tell me about whether that's likely, if there were different processes as you were moving so fast, obviously, and then also how the situation looks in the United States with the FDA given that you're on pause here for about seven weeks, and the US data could come so much later.
DOBBER: Yeah. So first of all, yes. There were different processes, but at this stage, we don't have any, let's say, evidence in order to say that that's causing the difference. So we stick to the data, of course, we will do everything in order to get more clarity about the processes we have seen in the last few months. Once again, the scientists are quite bullish that they have seen it in the past also in laboratory trials, so we just need to be a bit patient in order to really see the full data set. And of course, when the data set is available, we will clearly publish that in international journals. Regarding your second question about the FDA, we are running a very large U.S.-specific study as we speak. We've already included more than 10,000 volunteers in those studies. But equally, of course, we will engage with the FDA later in the week to show them the data and depending on their guidance, we will define the next steps of our strategy here.
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Before we let you go, wanted to just ask you about the timeline for what some people are talking about a return to normal. A world in which we're not wearing masks and social distancing the way so many of us are right now. The head of Operation Warp Speed in the United States said that he believed it was possible that we could get to a “herd immunity by vaccination,” if you will, by May of 2021. Do you agree with that?
DOBBER: I think it's optimistic. I think we need to realize that the challenge is enormous. We are talking here about a world population of 7 billion people. But it is good. The moment we have the first doses available of course we are starting to create the herd immunity. Specialist, experts are saying you need to vaccinate roughly 70% of the population in order to achieve that. So we can only hope that together with Pfizer and Moderna and also AstraZeneca, we will manufacture enough doses in order to achieve that sooner than later. But all in all, I think it's incredibly positive that now three companies are showing very strong results, including AstraZeneca. And before I leave you, I think there's also one very important advantage of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. The ease to use it at refrigerator temperature, I think is a very important element of our vaccine, so that also patients and people in low-income countries and middle-income countries can benefit from it. So, all in all I think a very exciting day, and let's hope the next steps will go well.
SORKIN: Real quick just if I could follow up. You said that May was optimistic. What is – let's do the United States and then the globe or you could break down the globe – what do you think is realistic?
DOBBER: I think in the United States, I think the timeframe of May to July, can be realistic depending on the manufacturing capacity. I think if you talk about the globe. I think we will face still a roller coaster time in 2021. I don't – personally, I don't believe I can be wrong. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't believe that before the summer – next summer we will be out of it completely. But we are going to make massive progress as we move forward.
TIRRELL: Dr. Dobber, thanks for being with us and a good reminder, it's going to be a task to get this out to everybody in the world. We appreciate you being here this morning.