In January, Egypt received the first batch of AstraZeneca’s Evusheld — a monoclonal antibody drug that resists the coronavirus — which contained 15,000 doses.
Ahram Online: What do you think about the developments that Egypt’s healthcare sector has been experiencing recently, and how do you view Egypt as a market for the pharmaceutical industry?
Hatem Werdany: The healthcare sector in Egypt has been growing quickly recently. COVID-19 has brought about rapid reforms and presented an opportunity for Egypt to strengthen its healthcare system. As one of the most populous countries in the Arab world, Egypt remains a key country of focus for us and we work closely with the local authorities to ensure uninterrupted access to innovative medication for patients. Our priorities are aligned with Egypt’s national agenda, ensuring that we work hand-in-hand to tackle challenges within the healthcare sector, effectively playing our part in contributing to a robust healthcare ecosystem.
AstraZeneca prides itself on more than five decades of its successful presence in Egypt, and today has over 800 employees. We have a current capital investment of around $60 million, which is expected to increase over the coming three years.
We are continuously increasing our footprint through local partnerships and various programmes to serve Egyptian patients. The company spent around $75 million in the past three years. We strive to bring innovative solutions to patients, to support the healthcare ecosystem, and to support the Governments’ efforts in infrastructure upgrades and continuous medical education for healthcare professionals.
AO: How exactly does the newly approved Evusheld function?
HW: We have developed a long-acting antibody combination called Evusheld, which is intended for high-risk individuals who will not respond to or who have insufficient response to vaccination and require a different form of protection to be able to return to their normal lives. These include patients with cancer, certain immune diseases or who are treated with immune suppressive therapy, people on dialysis and others with a suppressed immune system.
Evusheld represents an important step in our global fight against the pandemic and we hope this new long-acting antibody combination will fulfil the unmet need and help to protect the most vulnerable populations.
AO: When is the drug expected to be available in Egypt?
HW: Egypt is one of the first countries in the world to receive doses of Evusheld. A first batch of 15,000 doses out of a total order of 50,000 for 2022 arrived at Cairo International Airport in January, soon after obtaining Emergency Use Authorization from the Egyptian Drug Authority. Further doses are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
Millions of Egyptians have already received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and, thanks to Evusheld, we can now offer protection to immunocompromised patients and those who may not mount an adequate immune response to COVID-19 vaccination.
AO: How will the pricing for the drug be determined?
HW: We have agreed with the Ministry of Health and Population to keep the pricing structure confidential.
AO: To what extent does Evusheld contribute to protecting people from COVID-19 and its variants?
HW: The primary data supporting Evusheld are from the ongoing PROVENT trial, which demonstrated an 83 percent reduction in the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 (at the six-month analysis) with protection from the virus continuing for at least six months.
AO: Does AstraZeneca plan to manufacture Evusheld locally?
HW: Given the current scale of supply for Evusheld doses worldwide, there are no current plans to manufacture at additional sites.
That said, we will continue to work closely with the Egyptian government and partners to deliver on our commitment to change the course of the pandemic with our innovative medicines.
AstraZeneca has a manufacturing plant in 6th October City with a production capacity of 900 million tablets per year across many of our brands, and we are looking forward to increasing the local production in the coming year.
AO: Are there AstraZeneca vaccine shipments expected to be delivered to Egypt in the near future?
HW: We have delivered to date over 20 million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Egypt and are constantly working with the government and our partners to increase that number to support Egypt’s vaccination campaign.
Our shared commitment to global equitable access has helped protect lives in low and lower middle-income countries. In 2021, AstraZeneca and our partners released for supply 2.5 billion vaccine doses to 170 countries across every continent. Approximately two-thirds of these went to low- and lower-middle-income countries. To date, more than 290 million doses have been delivered to 130 countries through the COVAX Facility. We remain committed to supporting countries to help protect their populations from COVID-19.
AO: What are the updates regarding AstraZeneca’s anti-Omicron drugs to be used in Egypt?
HW: On the vaccine, new data from a preliminary analysis of our ongoing safety and immunogenicity trial showed that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, when given as a third dose booster, increased the immune response to Beta, Delta, Alpha and Gamma SARS-CoV-two variants, while a separate analysis of samples from the trial showed increased antibody response to the Omicron variant.
In a recent real-world evidence study in Brazil, 90 percent of the participants that received AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as a third dose booster were protected against both Omicron and Delta strains, similar to the performance of the mRNA vaccine used in this study.
As far as Evusheld is concerned, two recent independent studies from University College Oxford and Washington University School of Medicine have also shown that Evusheld retains neutralising activity against the Omicron variant. These data are in line with previous results from tests conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration and add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that Evusheld retains activity against all tested SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern to date.