Coronavirus vaccine development ‘progressing well’, says U.K. drugmaker

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Britain’s AstraZeneca said on Thursday that good data was coming in so far on its vaccine for COVID-19, already in large-scale human trials and widely seen as the front-runner in the race for a shot against the novel coronavirus.

The drugmaker, Britain’s most valuable listed company, also announced second-quarter results that beat its sales and profit estimates, thanks to strong sales from a diverse product line-up.

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“The vaccine development is progressing well. We have had good data so far. We need to show the efficacy in the clinical program, but so far, so good,” Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said on a media call.

AstraZeneca has already reached deals with countries to make more than two billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, and says it could be approved by the end of this year.

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The company has had a busy few months: it took on development of the COVID-19 shot, received billions in government funding, signed several supply deals, and was even the subject of a mega-merger speculation – all while marching on with its core business.

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It stuck by its 2020 outlook on Thursday, and its shares were up about three per cent at 88.6 pounds after product sales of $6.05 billion in the three months to June surpassed consensus of $6.01 billion. The figure excludes payments from tie-ups.

Newer drugs for diabetes, heart conditions and cancer, including its top-selling lung cancer drug Tagrisso, performed well in the quarter and AstraZeneca remains on track for a third consecutive year of growth.

Among drugs with better-than-expected revenues, sales of respiratory drug Symbicort rose 12 per cent to $653 million, about $90 million above consensus, while revenue from cancer drug Lynparza jumped 62 per cent to $554 million.

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There are no approved vaccines for the illness caused by the new virus, but AstraZeneca’s shot is widely considered the leading candidate after results from early-stage human trials showed it was safe and produced an immune response.

Core earnings of 96 cents per share beat analysts’ expectation of 93 cents. Total revenue rose 11%.

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