The European Union’s executive arm on Thursday finalized a third vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 shot to share between the bloc’s countries except for Hungary, which opted out of the deal.
The European commission said the contract, which was agreed on behalf of all 27 EU countries earlier this month, will allow the buying of 900 million doses of the current shots and of a serum adapted to the virus’ variants, with an option to purchase an extra 900 million shots.
Although EU nations agreed to keep on with their strategy of buying doses collectively, Hungary decided not to be part of the new purchase agreement that followed previous agreements with the two companies for 600 million shots.
“Therefore it will not be covered by the contract,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said following a meeting with health ministers from the region. “All other member states will have the opportunity to purchase vaccines under the new contract.”
Hungary is using vaccines from China and Russia in addition to Western jabs. About 40% of Hungary’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine, the second-highest vaccination rate in the EU.
The signature of the new agreement comes less than a week before a court hearing in Brussels pitting the Commission against the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which is accused by the EU of failing to deliver the promised number of doses of its own vaccine.
The Commission said that the deal with Pfizer-BioNTech stipulates that the production of doses must be based in the EU and that essential components are sourced from the region. “From the start of the supply in 2022, the delivery to the EU is guaranteed,” the Commission said.
AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among member countries, with an option for a further 100 million. The doses were expected to be delivered throughout 2021 but only 30 million were sent during the first quarter. According to the Commission, the company is set to provide only 70 million doses in the second quarter, rather than the 180 million it had promised.
In sharp contrast with the tense nature of its relationship with AstraZeneca, the Commission highlighted its “well-established cooperation” with BioNTech and Pfizer guaranteeing that “timely deliveries of the doses are ensured.”
The Commission said that under the new deal EU countries will have the possibility to donate some of their allocated doses to non-EU countries or through the U.N-backed effort known as COVAX, which is providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
Kyriakides said the EU is now prioritizing vaccine technologies “that have proven their worth, like mRNA vaccines.”
The active ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is messenger RNA, or mRNA, which contains the instructions for human cells to construct a harmless piece of the coronavirus called the spike protein. The human immune system recognizes the spike protein as foreign, allowing it to mount a response against the virus upon infection.
“But we keep our options open,” Kyriakides said. “The past months have clearly demonstrated the need to have access to a broad portfolio of vaccines and different technologies, as well as reliable partners. As the pace of vaccination increases every day and work on effective therapeutics intensifies, we can look ahead with more optimism and confidence.”
EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told an event organized by Germany’s WDR public television that, by the end of this week, 260 million doses of vaccine will have been delivered in Europe. She acknowledged that countries such as the U.S. and U.K. were faster to start with, but said “that has been put into perspective over time.”
After its much-criticized slow start, she said the bloc’s COVID-19 vaccination drive is a success.
“Yes, there was a lot of criticism of the European Union at the beginning,” she said in comments broadcast Thursday. “What counts in the end is that the European Union reliably delivers vaccines to its 450 million citizens day by day, and that we can say we got there together as a community. Measured by that, our European vaccination campaign is a success.”
BRUSSELS (AP) — By SAMUEL PETREQUIN Associated Press
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
Vista Equity invests $300 million in telehealth software firm TigerConnect- sources
Healthcare communications software provider TigerConnect has raised $300 million in growth investment from private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.
The valuation of TigerConnect wasn’t known. It last raised $45 million at a valuation of $370 million in September 2020, according to PitchBook data, counting HealthQuest Capital and New Leaf Ventures as its backers. Some of the early investors have exited through Vista’s investment, one of the sources said.
Santa Monica, California-based TigerConnect delivers cloud-based clinical communication and collaboration solutions, including telehealth, to over 7,000 healthcare organizations and 700,000 caregivers.
In an interview, Brad Brooks, TigerConnect’s co-founder and chief executive confirmed the partnership with Vista, but declined to comment on the amount or valuation.
He said the company plans to use the proceeds to invest in its product to meet the growing need for clinical collaborations, as well as looking for acquisition opportunities.
The number of users on TigerConnect’s platform more than doubled during the past year as hospitals try to improve efficiency and the experience for patients during the pandemic, Brooks added.
“There had really been a dramatic lack of efforts around clinical workflow communication. We’re almost like a Slack for healthcare, putting in a common communication network so that everyone can reach everyone,” said Brooks.
The company, founded in 2010, sells subscription-based software solutions, including collaboration, communication, scheduling and patient engagement. It also plans to utilize AI and machine learning technology to provide smart solutions based on the platform data.
Vista has over $86 billion in assets under management and specializes in investing in enterprise software, data and technology companies. Last week, it invested an undisclosed amount in BlueConic, a Boston-based customer data platform.
AstraZeneca booster shot is effective against Omicron variant
A study from an Oxford University lab published on Thursday revealed that a three-dose course of AstraZeneca booster shot is efficient in controlling the fast spread of the Omicron variant.
The Pharmaceutical company said in its statement that the results – while they have yet to be released in a peer-reviewed medical journal – are relatively identical to those of its rivals, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. They also uncovered that their booster vaccines effectively fight the latest Coronavirus variant.
After receiving the third dose of AstraZeneca, the study highlighted that the shot had a neutralizing effect against the virus, which had an almost identical result to the two shots against its previous variant, Delta.
“As we better understand Omicron, we believe we will find T-cell response provides durable protection against severe disease and hospitalizations,” the head of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceutical R&D, Mene Pangalos, said when referring to a significant element of the immune system that fights infection.
After taking the Vaxzervria – the third booster shot – antibody levels marked a much higher rate than antibodies in patients who had already caught the virus and naturally regained health, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said.
On Tuesday, the pharmaceutical firm announced that it is already working with its partner, Oxford University, to develop a vaccine exclusively directed towards fighting the Omicron variant, mirroring other MedTech companies’ attempts.
The university’s study incorporated 41 samples from individuals who had already taken the first two shots of AstraZeneca and others who took the booster one. The lab examined and analyzed blood samples from people infected with the virus and others vaccinated with the two dozes, the third booster shot, and finally, those who had already caught one of the coronavirus variants.
It is worth mentioning that AstraZeneca stated that while the Oxford University lab results support its booster shot, the study was completely independent of researchers who had previously joint efforts with the London-based firm on the vaccine.
The world is looking to halt back from the detrimental effect the pandemic is spreading, with governments and scientists seeking to heighten fortifications in their health sectors against the Omicron.
Even since its emergence on the scene, the latest COVID-19 variant proved to be one of the most dominant variants to date. Governments are worried it might become globally spread after the holidays if they fail to curb the infections rate.
Earlier this month, the UK endorsed third shots after discovering that boosters have a vital role in restoring protection against other diseases triggered by the Omicron.
Moderna, unfazed by Omicron, prepares for 2022 vaccination campaign
Covid-19 vaccine-making veteran Moderna seems unfazed by the emergence of the Omicron variant, saying that they can begin work on developing a booster short within a couple of weeks, according to Chief Executive Stephane Bancel.
“It only needs minor adjustments for Omicron, I don’t expect any problems,” said Bancel in an interview with the Swiss newspaper TagesAnzeiger.
Though hoping to begin clinical trials in early 2022, for the time being, they will be relying on the booster dose of their mRNA-1273 vaccine to counter the fast-spreading coronavirus variant.
The company is now awaiting vital information on the new variant to begin vaccine development, which could take up to one or two weeks.
Bancel says that it will take another few months to produce 500 million doses after all the regulatory requirements have been met, citing that their capabilities and experience as a company today have increased compared to one year ago.
In 2021, Moderna managed to create around 700 million to 800 million vaccine doses. In 2022, they expect to escalate production capacity from 100 million doses per month to 150 million per month.
Deals were also made with Swiss-based drug manufacturer Lonza to boost production further and plan to fire up their factory lines in the first quarter of 2022.
The company is currently discussing a future ‘vaccine subscription’ service with Switzerland that works to ensure a steady supply. This move helps improve ties with the country, which Moderna is keen to proceed with after signing parliamentary agreements with Canada and Australia.
“We have a number of new vaccines in development, for example against influenza or against the RS virus, which causes a respiratory disease that is fatal in the elderly and young children,” Bancel added.
“We can combine these three mRNA vaccines into one dose and propose to governments to secure supplies for a certain amount for several years and then invest in a production facility in that country,” he added.
With this, the company can designate certain countries as having priority should another pandemic occur in the future.
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