The CEO of America’s largest pharmaceutical company has said he believes vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready for approval as soon as next month, and for distribution by the end of the year.
Albert Bourla, CEO of New York-based Pfizer, told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday morning that he was optimistic.
He said there was a 60 per cent chance that his scientists will know by the end of October whether their vaccine was effective, and that, once the green light was given, doses could be produced quickly.
‘We have a good chance that we will know if the product works by the end of October,’ he said.
‘And then, of course, it is regulator’s job to issue a license or not.’
Asked whether that meant that he could say a vaccine would be ready by the new year, he replied: ‘I don’t know if they have to wait until 2021.’
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said he felt that his company could have a COVID vaccine soon
Pfizer is currently running trials on 30,000 people, and increasing the trial to 44,000
Asked whether he felt it was likely that the U.S. authorities would approve the vaccine, he replied: ‘I cannot say what the FDA will do. But I think it’s a likely scenario, and we are preparing for it.’
Bourla said that Pfizer was ‘already manufacturing’ and had so far created hundreds of thousands of doses.
He said the move was ‘just in case we have a good study readout, conclusive, and FDA plus the advisory committee feels comfortable that we will be ready.’
The pharma giant, with 88,000 employees working in 150 countries, is one of several biotech firms working at full speed on a vaccine.
Pfizer has spent $1.5 billion so far, Bourla said.
There have been 6.5 million cases of COVID-19 and almost 200,000 deaths from the virus
The United States is the hardest-hit nation for COVID-19 in the world
On Saturday Pfizer announced they were increasing the trial size for the new vaccine from 30,000 people up to 44,000, and increasing the range of people who will be sampled.
‘Now, we feel quite comfortable with the safety of the product,’ he said.
‘So we want to expand to more vulnerable populations. For example, we go to younger people. Right now, the study recruits from 18 to 85. Now we will go to 16 years old.
‘Also, we will go to people with special conditions, chronic conditions like HIV patients, but also we will try to use it to increase the diversity of the population.’
Around a quarter of the 30,000 people in initial trials were from ethnic minorities – a percentage which Bourla hopes to increase, given the fact that coronavirus is statistically more dangerous for people of color.
‘I think we should strive to have as more diverse population as possible, but right now we are not bad,’ he said.
‘Actually, we have a population that globally only 60 per cent are Caucasians, 40 per cent approximately are minorities.
‘Also, 44 per cent are older people.
‘And we try, of course, to increase with particular emphasis on African-Americans and Latinos.’
Bourla also explained Pfizer’s decision – unlike his rivals – not to take government funding for vaccine research.
‘The reason why I did it was because I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy,’ he said.
‘When you get money from someone that always comes with strings. They want to see how we are going to progress, what type of moves you are going to do. They want reports.
‘I didn’t want to have any of that.
‘I wanted them – basically I gave them an open checkbook so that they can worry only about scientific challenges, not anything else.
‘And also, I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics, by the way.’
Bourla said he ultimately hopes the decisions regarding vaccine distribution will be ‘a collaboration between the government of each country and us.’
But, he added, it should be up to the government to decide who will be vaccinated first.