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Why is the EU Suing AstraZeneca?

By Keith Speights and Brian Orelli, PhD - May 6, 2021 at 7:31AM

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The EU doesn't think the big drugmaker has held up its end of a supply agreement.

AstraZeneca (AZN -1.38%) at one time seemed to be in the driver's seat in the COVID-19 vaccine race. However, the big drugmaker has faced quite a few challenges in recent months, including a lawsuit filed by the European Union.

In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on April 28, 2021, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss why the EU is suing AstraZeneca.

Keith Speights: We talked about the European Union making a deal, or getting close to making a deal, with Pfizer and BioNTech for supplying doses of their vaccine through 2023. The loser in that story is AstraZeneca.

Not only is AstraZeneca a loser -- and that they didn't get a supply deal with the EU -- the European Union is actually suing AstraZeneca over delays in the delivery of its vaccine. Brian, what's the story there?

Brian Orelli: The EU had ordered 300 million doses, and they were supposed to be delivered by the end of June. There was even an option for another 100 million doses, although at this point, it doesn't seem like the EU wants to exercise that option.

In March, AstraZeneca said that they were shooting for delivering 100 million doses by the end of June -- so basically, a third of what the EU had ordered. AstraZeneca -- after the lawsuit came out, I think -- AstraZeneca said that it planned to deliver almost 50 million doses by the end of April, so the end of this month.

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't exactly see how suing AstraZeneca is going to speed up the process in manufacturing it. Maybe it puts some pressure on AstraZeneca to not send vaccine elsewhere. And maybe if it gets authorized in the U.S., for instance, or maybe it can move some of the vaccine that was supposed to be supplied to the U.S., since we'll probably not going to need it at this point, and maybe shift that back to the EU.

Speights: I know AstraZeneca is selling the vaccine at cost right now, but surely the company had hoped to make pretty substantial profits from its COVID vaccine over the long run. But now it seems to be shut out at least for a couple of years in the EU.

The vaccine hasn't won authorization in the United States yet. But the U.S. is even shipping, I think I saw, maybe 60 million doses of its stockpile of AstraZeneca's vaccine to India. Is AstraZeneca going to really play a big role in the COVID vaccine market going forward?

Orelli: I mean, it doesn't really seem like it at this point. They need to somehow be able to ramp up production substantially to compete with the mRNA vaccines, which are producing a heck of a lot more vaccine doses per year.

Speights: Yeah. I think AstraZeneca has been one of the biggest negative surprises of the whole COVID vaccines story so far. You would've thought a company like AstraZeneca would've been able to be more successful than it has been. But it seems to have stumbled in nearly every way possible, over the last several months at least.

Orelli: I feel like they had the lead at one point.

Speights: Yeah.

Orelli: I don't know if they were the first one to go into clinical trials. It felt like they were, but they were certainly right neck and neck with Moderna, and Pfizer and BioNTech.

Speights: They were. Initially, the U.S. government had the biggest supply deal of all with AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca, I think, had a deal for 300 million doses initially, if I recall correctly. The other players initially only had deals for 100 million doses. Then some of those bumped up to 200 million, and then up to 300 million. But AstraZeneca seemed to be the leader for much of last year -- but has really stumbled over the last several months.

Orelli: I think they haven't even submitted their Emergency Use Authorization in the U.S. yet. We've had that data out for a while, so I don't know exactly what's going on there.

Speights: Yeah. Like you were talking [about] earlier, I don't know that I'm optimistic about a company like Ocugen getting authorization, but I think it's possible. I mean, I don't think it's out of the cards whatsoever. But it is surprising that AstraZeneca hasn't been able to win EUA already.

Orelli: Or even submitted yet.

Speights: Or even submitted, yeah. Exactly.

Brian Orelli, PhD has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Keith Speights owns shares of Pfizer. The Motley Fool recommends Moderna. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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