AstraZeneca boss says drug firm never overpromised on vaccines

Company says Covid-19 vaccine contributed €227m in sales in first quarter

AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot, who is under intense fire from the European Union over the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines, said on Friday the drugmaker he runs had not overpromised on the supply of shots.

The European Commission has launched legal proceedings against the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, alleging that it did not respect its contract or have a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries of coronavirus shots.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Soriot said it did its best to deliver as many doses as possible to the EU, and, while disappointed not to have delivered more, he was proud of the company’s work and was “totally committed” to increasing supply.

“We never overpromised. We communicated what we thought we would achieve at the time,” Mr Soriot told a media briefing, adding that AstraZeneca will have delivered 50 million doses to the EU by the end of April.

Asked if he agreed that AstraZeneca had not overpromised, Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told national broadcaster RTÉ: “Not for a second. No, absolutely not.”

“They made very clear commitments, they have failed to deliver on those commitments and that’s one of the reasons Ireland has joined the EU Commission legal case,” he said.

AstraZeneca, which had delivered only a quarter of what it had committed to the EU by the end of March, has said it plans to ship a total of 100 million doses to the bloc by the end of June, far below the 300 million foreseen in the contract.

So far, 300 million doses of the shot had been made available in 165 countries, the drugmaker said.

Vaccine sales

The company said on Friday that the Covid-19 vaccine contributed $275 million (€227 million) in sales and shaved off three US cents per share from its first-quarter earnings, as the drugmaker reported better-than-expected results and forecast sales growth.

This is the first time the drugmaker has given financial details from the distribution and sales of its vaccine. It has said it will not make a profit from the shot during the pandemic.

Vaccine revenue included delivery of about 68 million doses worldwide in the first three months of the year, it said. Sales in Europe were $224 million, emerging market sales were $43 million, and $8 million in the rest of the world, it said.

Total revenue, which includes payments from collaborations, rose 11 per cent to $7.32 billion for the three months to March on a constant-currency basis, while core earnings stood at $1.63 cents per share, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said.

Analysts on average were expecting core earnings of $1.48 per share on sales of $6.94 billion for the first quarter, according to a company-provided consensus of 18 analysts.

“We expect the impact of Covid to reduce and anticipate a performance acceleration in the second half of 2021,” Mr Soriot said in statement.

Vaccine vacuum

He said that when AstraZeneca agreed to work with Oxford University on its Covid-19 vaccine a year ago, it “never pretended that we were going to be perfect”.

Mr Soriot contrasted AstraZeneca’s experience with that of the more than 100 Covid-19 vaccine candidates listed as under development last year. Only a handful are being rolled out.

“Where are all those vaccines? They are nowhere,” he said.

And he also pointed to the situation in India, which is experiencing a devastating wave of Covid-19 infections, where AstraZeneca’s vaccine makes up 90 per cent of the shots available.

“Imagine without our vaccine what India would look like. Imagine if we had not stepped up, imagine if we had said no.”

“We don’t regret anything because ... we have made an enormous difference,” Mr Soriot said. – Reuters