AstraZeneca Plc Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said the coronavirus vaccine the company is developing with the University of Oxford could still be ready before the end of the year after pausing its trials due to a possible serious neurological problem in one patient.
Speaking at an online conference on Thursday, Soriot sought to reassure investors after the company and its partner confirmed earlier this week that they had temporarily stopped giving patients the experimental shot.
The trial was halted after a person in the UK who was participating in it got sick, triggering a review of safety data. Though such interruptions are common in vaccine studies, the drugmaker and its boss are facing questions about what exactly caused the issue and whether it could be related to the shot.
“What we have here is a special set of circumstances where the whole world becomes involved in the conduct of a clinical trial,” Soriot said in his first public comments since the trial was halted. The decision on whether to resume the study is in the hands of a group of independent experts working to understand whether the patient’s illness was a coincidence or a result of the vaccine. “The reality is we all have to be very patient and see how it unfolds,” he said.
Astra shares were little changed in London.
It’s still not clear whether the patient has a condition called transverse myelitis, a suspected diagnosis, Soriot said.
The CEO, speaking at a Tortoise Media event on Thursday, said he can’t evaluate the length of the trial pause. When tests are complete, the physicians will share the data with the safety committee, he said.
US National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told a Senate committee on Wednesday the trial had been halted due to a “spinal cord problem”. AstraZeneca is one of several drug companies taking part in the US government’s Operation Warp Speed program to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine.