AstraZeneca nixes beta COVID vax

Feb. 11, 2022

AstraZeneca has removed a next-generation, beta-specific COVID-19 vaccine from its pipeline after results from a phase 2/3 clinical trial showed 'no meaningful difference' from its predecessor, according to a quarterly report published by the company and statements made to Reuters. 

The vaccine, called AZD2816, was developed to provide increased protection against the beta variant, which was first identified in South Africa at the end of 2020. Clinical trials for the testing of AZD2816 began in June, enrolling 2250 patients. Patients, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, received a dose of the new drug during the study. 

When results from the trials came back, the company found AZD2816 did not yield an immune response different enough than its predecessor, Vaxzevria.

“There was no need to switch from one to the other because obviously switching vaccines at this stage is not an easy thing, from a manufacturing perspective, capacity perspective,” said Mene Pangalos, EVP biopharmaceutical R&D at AstraZeneca. “It would have to be really considerably better to make that switch,” he added.

At the time that beta was identified, it was a concerning variant. The virus features multiple changes across the spike protein and seemed to render first-generation vaccines less effective. However, its threat was quickly overshadowed by the omicron variant, which accounts for almost 100% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Jan. 22, according to the CDC. 

AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria is not currently approved by the U.S. FDA. In March 2021, several European countries paused the use of the company’s vaccine after several reports of blood clots. Unlike Pfizer's and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, AstraZeneca’s does not require ultra-cold storage making it a good option for countries that lack extensive healthcare infrastructure. Along with Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 dose, Vaxzevria has been essential in mitigating the vaccination rate gap in lower-income countries.