CSL says it is talking with partner organisations to help roll out doses of the University of Queensland’s COVID-19 vaccine if it is successful after the ASX-listed giant signed a deal with the federal government to produce Australia’s leading candidate vaccine.
The confirmation of the deal comes in the same week the federal government unveiled economic forecasts premised on the assumption of a successful vaccine being rolled out by next year, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg saying in a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday “a vaccine is assumed to be available around the end of 2021”.
Doctors and epidemiologists have highlighted this timeline may be ambitious,however, given vaccine candidates have not yet been approved and deployment of a vaccine across Australia is a long-term logistical challenge.
CSL told investors on Thursday morning its vaccine arm Seqirus had signed off on the final agreement to produce 51 million doses of the University of Queensland (UQ) vaccine, known as V451, if it is successful. It said first participants in the phase 2b/3 trials of the product would be enrolled in December if progress went as expected.
CSL has previously confirmed its priorities are the production of the UQ “molecular clamp” vaccine and making doses of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine if these products pass clinical trials.
While the Oxford product is currently in the phase 3 trial stage, the UQ vaccine is still in phase 1. The production deal means CSL will oversee late stage trials of the product and produce it at scale if successful. The company confirmed on Thursday the large scale phase 2b/3 trial was “almost ready” and would be a randomised, placebo-controlled trial across multiple countries and more than 100 research sites.
The first subject would be enrolled in December, subject to the progress of the current phase 1 study, with “the goal of completing recruitment by March 2021”, the company said.
CSL shares ticked upwards at the market open and were sitting 2.4 per cent higher to $298.94 at 4:15pm. The company’s shares are ahead 8.6 per cent year-to-date.
Earlier this year CSL said rollout of the UQ vaccine could happen as soon as the middle of next year, subject to successful trials. The company said it was committed to ensuring the vaccine was safe and effective before rolling it out to market.
“Discussions have already commenced with the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure this goal is met,” the company said in a statement.
CSL also confirmed it has started talks with partner organisations to “assist with the production of further doses with the goal of providing further access to the vaccine” if it is successful.
The production agreement involves the federal government paying CSL for the “clinical and technical development” needed to prepare its sites for production.
The company has previously said given the risk associated with vaccine production it’s not clear what the financial impact of its vaccine projects will be.
“Given the considerable risk, cost and uncertainty associated with the development of these novel vaccines, it is too early to calculate with any certainty the financial impact on the company,” CSL said in a statement.
Equities analysts and experts have previously outlined they are not putting much weight in vaccine production and COVID-19 treatment plans for companies like CSL, because such products are complex and unlikely to result in significant profit margins.
Emma reports on healthcare companies for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She is based in Melbourne.