ZURICH (Reuters) – U.S. drugmaker Pfizer should know in October if a COVID-19 vaccine it is developing works, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on Thursday, potentially placing it at the centre of bitter U.S. presidential politics ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Pfizer would submit the candidate for approval immediately if data shows the vaccine, developed with partner, Germany’s BioNTech, proves safe and effective, Bourla said at an online briefing sponsored by drug industry group IFPMA.
The race for vaccines with Moderna, AstraZeneca Plc, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Chinese and Russian competitors comes as President Donald Trump seeks re-election, after committing billions of federal dollars to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, which has killed more than 180,000 Americans.
Trump, facing Democratic challenger Joe Biden, hopes to deliver a win on vaccines by Election Day, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already asking states to prepare a distribution plan for high-risk groups as soon as late October.
The timing of Pfizer’s study’s data depends on how quickly scientists work, as well as on the severity of COVID-19 infections in its study locations in the United States, Argentina and Brazil, Bourla said.
“Based on our calculations, we are expecting that to be in October,” Bourla said, adding Pfizer has enrolled 23,000 patients, so far, with recruitment progressing ahead of original plans.
Rival Merck also confirmed aims to start human trials on one COVID-19 vaccine candidate “fairly soon,” with trials of second candidate also likely later this year, Chief Executive Kenneth Frazier said at the IFPMA event.
Both Merck’s Frazier and Pfizer’s Bourla pledged to only seek authorization if safety and efficacy data from large groups of people warrants it.
People fear politicization of science could lead to a vaccine to be submitted or withheld for political gain, Bourla acknowledged, calling it “the worst situation society can be in”.
“We will never ourselves submit for authorization or approval any vaccine before we feel it is safe and effective,” Bourla said. “We will not cut corners.”
(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Caroline Humer and Michael Erman in New York; Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Susan Fenton and Alistair Bell)