AstraZeneca’s Thai deal brings renewed controversy

AstraZeneca’s outreach to vaccines is becoming a warning to businesses that intend to do the right thing. Developers at Oxford University have agreed to manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine worldwide. But it has been plagued by controversy, over side effects and Delays in the EU. Now it’s wrapped up in another: about his contract in Thailand with a company owned by the Thai king, and production problems that delayed the explosion of vaccines there and in Southeast Asia. Some competitors, meanwhile, are lifting AstraZeneca five times and earning decent profits.

In addition to the non-profit promise, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker engaged in the drug business last year, even before the vaccine was approved. request to do more from now on: concluding agreements with manufacturers around the world, also in emerging markets, to increase supply.

Its contract for the Thai Siam Bioscience to produce up to 200 million doses per year, because its production center in Southeast Asia is one of two dozen worldwide. A sensational agreement with the Serum Institute of India was to make the sting a pillar of the Covax initiative to vaccinate lower-income countries before the Covid-19 boom restricted vaccine exports.

Such ambitious efforts would have stretched the largest drug groups. However, the Thai agreement, like the EU supply problems, has raised questions about the management and communication of AstraZeneca. It did not fully explain how it worked with Siam Bioscience, which had never produced before and was not on a Thai government list of companies with the right knowledge earlier last year.

Thai critics say the Anglo-Swedish company had to face the reputational risks associated with a business eventually owned by the billionaire head of state, after protest action against democracy last year rare criticism of the power and personal fortune of the monarch. An opposition figure, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who expressed doubts about the choice of Siam Bioscience, was charged in January by the police with ‘computer crime’ and under the Majesty’s law making statements that could be considered an insult to the royal family. , criminalize. has a maximum sentence of 15 years.

AstraZeneca says that its Thai agreement has taken into account the global supplier capacity, and its focus on ‘local production where possible’; Siam Bioscience ‘has become the best option’, in part because of its modern facilities and technical expertise. But the drugmaker gave little detail about its production agreement, or the cause of the weakening of supply. This has implications not only for the Thai healthcare and tourism-dependent economy, but also for the whole region, with Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines all saying they were informed about the delays in shipping Thai manufactured jabs.

The case highlights the care that global pharmaceutical companies must take to find local partners, in terms of reputation and the speed of getting weapons. BioNTech said last week that it plans to establish a complete manufacturing facility in Africa for mRNA vaccines can last four years. The best way to rapidly increase global production of Covid vaccines could be for large drug companies to work with each other and with manufacturers in the developed world, as far as capacity allows.

AstraZeneca has discovered that lofty intentions can only intensify the investigation and criticism if things go wrong. In a global health emergency, consumers will forgive some mistakes. But if that happens, companies need to be open about exactly why.

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