AstraZeneca shares fall after efficacy findings for Covid-19 vaccine

AstraZeneca shares fell after the drugmaker announced efficacy results for its Covid-19 vaccine that were below those reported by rivals Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

The shares were down 3.5% at £80.29 by Monday afternoon.

Results from the phase 3 trial showed the vaccine developed with the University of Oxford can protect 70.4% of people from becoming ill and, in a surprise result, up to 90% if a lower first dose is used.

This is lower than the 95% efficacy reported for vaccines developed by the US drugmaker Pfizer and the German biotech BioNTech, and the US biotech Moderna. Analysts said the AstraZeneca/Oxford results left some unanswered questions.

Maxim Jacobs, of the investment research firm Edison Group, said: “It’s not normal for there to be lower efficacy for a higher dose, it can happen but it’s rare. There are some potential explanations, such as the vector immune response, but it’s hard to know without more data.”

James Bevan, the chief investment officer at the fund manager CCLA, told Sky News the efficacy data had been “rather less than had been anticipated by the market”.

AstraZeneca, which is Britain’s biggest pharmaceutical firm, also reiterated that it would not profit from the vaccine during the current pandemic – until at least July – by pricing “at cost”, about $3 (£2.25) to $5 a dose. This is far below Pfizer’s $19.50 and Moderna’s $25 to $37 a dose.

Neil Wilson, the chief market analyst at the trading platform, said: “AstraZeneca shares have had a very good run this year so there is always a bit of ‘sell the news’ to this kind of thing unless it is better than expected.”

Emily Field, the head of European pharmaceutical research at Barclays bank, said with the trial results out of the way investors could concentrate on AstraZeneca’s strengths such as cancer treatment, via its oncology unit. “This will allow investor focus to return to Astra’s innovative oncology and other programmes and the company continues to offer one of the best earnings growth rates across EU pharma,” she said.

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