Kishida asks Pfizer for faster vaccine delivery

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seen at the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday held phone talks with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla, apparently requesting that the supply of booster doses of the company’s novel coronavirus vaccine be brought forward.

Regarding the third round of inoculation, the government had initially planned an interval of at least eight months between the second and third vaccinations, but in light of concerns about the spread of the omicron variant of the virus, the government plans to reduce the interval to six months in some cases.

The government has a contract with Pfizer for 120 million doses of the vaccine for next year, but it has been negotiating with the company to advance the supply schedule.

There are growing calls from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the government to make the minimum inoculation interval six months in principle.

The government also plans to utilize vaccines made by U.S. firm Moderna for the boosters.

Novavax application

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. announced Thursday that it has submitted an application to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry for approval to manufacture and sell a new coronavirus vaccine developed by U.S. biopharmaceutical firm Novavax Inc.

It is the fifth vaccine for which an application for approval has been filed in Japan. Takeda will manufacture the drug in Japan, and the company plans to start supplying it in early 2022 upon approval.

The Novavax vaccine is created using genetic code for the coronavirus’ spike protein, and it is given in two doses, three weeks apart.

In overseas clinical trials, the vaccine was about 90% effective in preventing the onset of COVID-19 and 100% effective in preventing moderate and severe cases of the disease.

A total of about 200 people aged 20 or older, including men and women, participated in the clinical trial in Japan, and it is said that a certain level of efficacy and safety was confirmed. In the application, data on a third round of vaccination was also submitted to the ministry.

Takeda will carry out a technology transfer with Novavax and establish the capacity to manufacture 250 million doses per year at its plant in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Chugai nixes AT-527

Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. announced Thursday that it would terminate development of AT-527, an oral drug for COVID-19, for which the company had aimed to get government approval.

The company will abandon its plan of applying to the health ministry for the drug’s approval.

AT-527 was clinically tested by U.S. biotech company Atea Pharmaceuticals in collaboration with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, which has Chugai under its umbrella.

There were hopes for early commercialization of the drug, but Atea announced in October that clinical trials had failed to confirm sufficient efficacy.

Roche, which had been aiming for global distribution of the drug, announced in November that it would dissolve its collaboration with Atea.

After examining its response to the drug, Chugai decided to terminate its development in Japan as well.

The ministry had decided on a ¥458 million subsidy for Chugai for the development of AT-527, but will ask for a partial refund due to the abandonment of the application.