University students: Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine research was 97% publicly funded’

Opening statement

A newly released study by UAEM UK members shows that 97.1-99.0% of the funding for the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine research at the University of Oxford was from governmental and charitable sources. The researchers further encountered a severe lack of transparency in funding reporting mechanisms. 

The pre-print of the study, which has been submitted to the BMJ Open, is freely accessible on medRxiv here.

Background: Why is this important?

Many argue that the risks of medical research are borne by the public, while the profits from the finished technologies are privatised. Much of the initial research into innovative health technologies takes place at public institutions such as universities. However, due to a lack of transparency in the costs and funders of research and development, it is often challenging to quantify this. Last month the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that greed and capitalism gave us COVID-19 vaccines, but our study shows that quite the opposite is true: public investment and international collaboration gave us the COVID-19 vaccines.

What does the study say?

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was one of the first COVID-19 vaccines approved and builds upon two decades of research into the ChAdOx technology at the University of Oxford. This study employs a novel methodology tracking funding from acknowledgements in peer-reviewed academic articles and freedom of information (FOI) requests to the University of Oxford.  We identified £104,226,076 of research and development (R&D) funding from the FOIs, and £228,466,771 from traceable award numbers derived from the literature search. The total is likely to be much higher as grant amounts were only available in the public realm for 121 (21.0%) mentions in the academic literature. Based on the FOIs, until 01/2020, the European Commision (34.0%), Wellcome Trust (20.4%) and CEPI (17.5%) were the biggest funders of ChAdOx R&D. From January 2020, The U.K. Department of Health and Social Care was the single largest funder (89.3%). Our study identified that public funding accounted for 97.1-99.0% of the funding towards the R&D of ChAdOx and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. We furthermore encountered a severe lack of transparency in research funding reporting mechanisms. 

What was UAEM’s role:

In this study, we highlight the pivotal role of public and charitable funding in the innovation and development of life-saving technology at Oxford university. ChAdOx vaccine technology was developed with near total governmental and charitable funding, challenging the dangerous and popular narrative that the private sector and profit are the sole drivers of innovation . We unveiled a severe lack of transparency in the funding reporting mechanisms of scientific journals. This was especially true for private sector funding, but it was also not always possible to trace exact amounts in the public and charitable sectors.  To facilitate discussion around fair pricing, funding of R&D through all phases must be transparent.

Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) is a global network of university students campaigning for accessible and affordable publicly-funded medicines.

What are the implications?

This vaccine, like many other COVID-19 health technologies, was developed largely with governmental and charitable funding. Yet very few of these health innovations are governed in the public interest with appropriate public oversight. We need to recognise the public contribution to innovation and our resulting right to demand equitable access and transparency of COVID-19 vaccines.

Our findings not only show the innovation produced by public and charitable funding, but they highlight the importance of universities in the global medical innovation system. Universities and governments must use this power and influence to ensure that health technologies, in particular COVID-19 health technologies, are distributed equitably and managed transparently in the public interest.

Quotes

“Last month PM Johnson claimed that greed and capitalism gave us COVID-19 vaccines, but our study shows that quite the opposite is true: public investment and international collaboration gave us the COVID-19 vaccines. We need to stop perpetuating the narrative in which the private sector and profit are the sole drivers of innovation, and recognise that the life-saving ChAdOx vaccine technology was developed with near total governmental and charitable funding.”

You can read the full press release including contact details here.