Business - January 5, 2022 | 12:00 am PT

According to the latest publication of Nature, as of December 14th 2021, 10 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been supplied globally. AstraZeneca is currently the company providing the largest number of vaccines in the world with nearly 2.5 billion doses. In order to urgently prevent the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed the largest vaccination drive in history.

Vietnam launched a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign in March 2021. Among the vaccines used, 30 million doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, also known as Vaxzevria, were directly supplied to Vietnam within just 10 months through a partnership with Vietnam Vaccine JSC (VNVC), with the support of the Government and Ministry of Health.

The first batch of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine arrived in Vietnam in February 2021.

According to Nitin Kapoor, Chairman and General Director of AstraZeneca Vietnam and Asia Area Frontier Markets, in the next phase of cooperation with VNVC, this pharmaceutical company will continue to deliver 25 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Vietnam in 2022.

"Supplying a large number of Covid-19 vaccines to Vietnam in a short period of time demonstrates AstraZeneca's commitment in working with the Vietnamese Government and health sector to fight the pandemic and protect people’s health. For the past 27 years, AstraZeneca has accompanied Vietnam in its sustainable health development strategy, with the goal of reducing the dual burden of non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases," said Nitin.

When Covid-19 broke out, the name AstraZeneca started to be known more widely and associated with vaccines. However, this pharma giant has a long legacy of researching and providing high-quality medicines, as well as running many meaningful programs to improve the treatment quality for non-communicable diseases such oncology, cardiovascular, renal and metabolism, respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.

Astra (Sweden) planted its roots in Vietnam in 1994. Then in 1999, AstraZeneca was formed through the merger of two pharmaceutical companies Astra and Zeneca (United Kingdom). Inheriting the medical achievements of two countries, this handshake has helped AstraZeneca grow, build a reputation and presence in more than 100 countries, with nearly 80,000 employees around the world. In Vietnam, this company has established a foreign-invested enterprise with nearly 500 employees, regularly ranked in the top 100 best places to work.

AstraZeneca’s new R&D center in Cambridge, UK, and AstraZeneca Vietnam’s headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

AstraZeneca's position is further solidified when its vaccine is the most widely used across the world (in over 170 countries), making an important contribution to stemming the pandemic. Looking at the larger picture, with a series of programs for public health, AstraZeneca has been helping to improve the lives of millions of patients around the world, while making a positive impact on the quality of healthcare and sustainable development in Vietnam.

When Covid-19 began to spread around the world in the first months of 2020, AstraZeneca had committed to providing a vaccine broadly and equitably, at no profit through a partnership with the University of Oxford (U.K.), including the research group of Professor Sarah Gilbert. Even though at first, some people were skeptical about low-cost vaccines, but when the story was revealed through Professor Gilbert’s book and sharings, people around the world began to understand the importance of this vaccine. AstraZeneca's vaccine is sold at cost, helping low-income countries and hundreds of millions of people to access vaccines and be protected in a timely manner.

"The landmark partnership with the University of Oxford brought together world-class expertise in vaccinology with AstraZeneca's global pharmaceutical development and manufacturing capabilities. Together, we stand by our commitment to providing the vaccine broadly and equitably during the pandemic period," Nitin said.

Covid-19 vaccines have made a major impact around the world, significantly reducing the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. According to the Ministry of Health, as of December 25th 2021, Vietnam has received 181.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, giving more than 98 percent of the population aged 18 years or older at least one dose, and about 86 percent two doses.

Although vaccines have been and are providing protection for the majority of the population, there remain groups at increased risk of severe Covid-19 even after receiving two or three vaccine doses. It is estimated that about 2 percent of the global population belongs to this group, who are immunocompromised due to a disease or treatment such as people with blood cancers or other cancers being treated with chemotherapy; patients on dialysis, those taking medications after an organ transplant or who are taking immunosuppressive drugs for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Targeting this vulnerable group as well as those at increased exposure to the virus due to their living or working situations, AstraZeneca has researched and developed a long-acting antibody. This method involves injecting pre-made antibodies into the body, which has been likened to an 'instant vaccine' because the person receiving it will have enough antibodies to protect the body only a few hours after administering. AstraZeneca is one of the few pharmaceutical corporations that have developed both a vaccine and a monoclonal antibody in the prevention of Covid-19.

The antibody AZD7442, also known as Evusheld, is a combination of two long-acting monoclonal antibodies, optimized to provide protection for up to 12 months, said AstraZeneca. It has so far been approved in the U.S., France and some other countries. According to important phase 3 clinical trial results, one dose of intramuscular injection of Evusheld reduces the risk of developing symptomatic Covid-19 by 83 percent. It also reduced 88 percent risk of severe Covid-19 or death if patients are treated within three days of symptom onset. The latest preclinical data also show that this antibody duo remains effective against the Omicron variant that is causing global concern.

Simulation of the long-acting antibody Evusheld’s neutralizing activity against Covid-19.

Myron J. Levin, Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine (USA) and one of the lead investigators of the PROVENT trial, said: " Millions of people in the US and around the world remain at serious risk for Covid-19 because their immune systems do not generate a sufficient immune response, even after receiving all recommended doses of vaccine. I am excited to offer my patients Evusheld as an easily-administered new option that provides long-lasting protection that could help them return to their everyday lives."

Sharing about the positive news of this antibody cocktail, Nitin said: "The US FDA’s EUA of Evusheld for the prevention of Covid-19 is an important milestone globally. We are working closely with the Vietnam Ministry of Health for accelerated regulatory approval and hope that the 20,000 doses of Evusheld purchased by VNVC can soon support the unmet needs of vulnerable patients in Vietnam."

In recognition of meaningful efforts in the prevention of Covid-19, AstraZeneca Vietnam was awarded the Certificate of Merit from the Ministry of Health in 2020, and prestigious awards from BritCham and EuroCham.

AstraZeneca Vietnam received the Certificate of Merit from the Ministry of Health for contributions in the prevention and control of Covid-19.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic is capturing most of the community’s attention because of its far-reaching impact, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer; cardiovascular, renal and metabolic; respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, are actually the leading causes of death and account for about 70 percent of the disease burden in Vietnam. According to the Ministry of Health’s statistics, nationwide, 77 out of 100 deaths are due to NCDs. In particular, NCDs are also underlying conditions and aggravating and risk factors for deaths due to infectious diseases or Covid-19. Therefore, managing NCDs is the key to building a sustainable health sector.

Recognizing this reality, Nitin shared, AstraZeneca always strives to support Vietnam to address the challenges of the dual burden of infectious diseases and NCDs. The company’s innovative, high-quality medicines are improving the lives of millions of patients each year.

With a VND2,000 billion ($90 million) investment from 2022 to 2030, announced in November in the presence of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in the U.K., AstraZeneca has committed to conducting technology transfer and local contract manufacturing of the company’s key drugs in Vietnam, contributing to strengthening the domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity and sustainable development of the Vietnamese health system. As a result, patients' access to medicines will be better ensured, helping to reduce NCDs.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and CEO of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot (third from right) at the ceremony of AstraZeneca's investment into Vietnam announcement in November 2021. Photo by Vo Thanh.

In the draft Decision of the Prime Minister ratifying the National Strategy on Development of Vietnam's Pharmaceutical Industry in the period to 2030 and with a Vision to 2045, the Ministry of Health aims to build a sustainable pharmaceutical industry that is modern and on par with advanced countries in the region and the world. To accomplish this, it is extremely important to increase investment in domestic drug research and development (R&D). In fact, the draft proposes that by 2030, domestically produced drugs should reach about 80% of the amount used in health insurance.

When handing over the plaque of the investment commitment, Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, expressed to the Vietnamese Prime Minister the company’s desire to support this goal of Vietnam. He also shared that in Vietnam, AstraZeneca has been a leader in the number of clinical trials funded by the pharmaceutical industry over the past 10 years, with 40 ongoing trials, in partnership with 44 hospitals across the country, to contribute to the research and development of various medicines to treat NCDs.

Scientist working on vaccine development at AstraZeneca. Photo by AstraZeneca.

Nitin added that in 2019, when welcoming President Nguyen Xuan Phuc to visit AstraZeneca's manufacturing site in Sweden, the company also announced an investment worth VND5,000 billion ($220 million) into Vietnam in a number of focus areas, including enhancing domestic pharmaceutical R&D.

"We always follow the science and put patients first. We will invest a total of VND7,000 billion in Vietnam over this 10-year period to support the comprehensive and sustainable development of the Vietnamese health system. As a long-term partner of the Government and healthcare sector, we will always do our best for the benefits of the Vietnamese people," Nitin said.

President Nguyen Xuan Phuc (then Prime Minister) witnessed AstraZeneca's announcement of the $220m investment into Vietnam (2020-2024 period), in May 2019.

As Covid-19 progressed complicatedly, many patients with NCDs did not receive regular health checks and treatments, worsening their conditions. As a result, AstraZeneca has donated to the Ministry of Health VND62.6 billion worth of medicines to support the treatment of NCDs, as well as supporting hospitals to advance telehealth programs and raise awareness of diseases as well as healthcare.

Since 1994, AstraZeneca has run a series of sustainability programs such as Healthy Lung, Young Health Program, CaReMe..., in coordination with partners, to accompany the health sector for public health. These programs aim to strengthen the healthcare ecosystem through early disease detection and raise quality standards in disease management, helping to improve clinical outcomes and quality of life for both patients and their families.

In addition, AstraZeneca's 'Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience' (PHSSR) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, London School of Economics and Vietnamese Ministry of Health, is also being implemented to comprehensively strengthen Vietnam's health system, preparing it for future challenges.

A community event organized by the Young Doctors Association and the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with AstraZeneca in 2019.

"I have worked at AstraZeneca for more than 10 years and am really proud of the extraordinary efforts of the company. We hold ourselves and our staff to very high standards, in everything from scientific research to clinical trials, to the journey to deliver medicines to patients, because they deserve the best quality healthcare. Hopefully, AstraZeneca's comprehensive programs will positively impact more and more people in Vietnam," Nitin said.

Content: Ngoc An - Designer: Hang Trinh