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AstraZeneca's global chairman reflects on 3 billion COVID shots and what’s next

healthcare | Dec 9, 2022 7:18 PM IST

AstraZeneca's global chairman reflects on 3 billion COVID shots and what’s next

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CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan spoke to Leif Johansson, Global Chairman, AstraZeneca — who will retire in April 2023 — to discuss his experience and learnings from the pandemic, the status of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and plans for India.

In April next year, Leif Johansson, will retire as AstraZeneca's non-executive chairman, marking the end of a more than decade long journey that saw the British drug giant ride over many a storm — including the COVID-19 pandemic — and emerge stronger. Earlier this year, the company completed the delivery of three billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine just 18 months after its partnership for manufacturing with the University of Oxford.

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CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan spoke to Leif Johansson, Global Chairman, AstraZeneca, to discuss his experience and learning from arguably the biggest challenge that the pharma industry faced in decades, the status of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, and plans for India.


Speaking about key learnings from the pandemic, Johansson said when it came to innovation, AstraZeneca, as a company — along with academia and the government — needs to find new ways to cooperate. He said, “Also there is a lesson there, that normally a combination of academia, companies, corporations, and government can learn from that by saying we can probably do 2x or 3x bigger, greater speed.”

He added, “The industry spends about $200 billion per year in research and development — all of that actually comes from the selling of the drugs. So we are now in innovative patented phase.”

Johansson felt there is an opportunity to think differently at different unique times. He said, “This pandemic was unique enough to justify a not-for-profit decision, but also a very strong spreading of technology and technology transfer into many countries and this is a very unique experience and situation.”

He added, “It is also important to recognise that industry needs to be able to generate revenue to be able to fund research for future medicines.”

During the COVID times, AstraZeneca decided that this was a unique situation to stay away from the profit principles and focus on really getting things done in a short while. He said, “The fact that we did technology transfer, but also the fact that we did it for no profit, made it easy to work around the world. So we ended up delivering three billion doses of vaccine in more than 180 countries. And of course, that is something that we think is good, and that we are proud of.”

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