The consequences of AstraZeneca Data Snafu could be bigger than it seems


AstraZeneca’s vaccine data flap is unlikely to cost the company much, at least in the short term. Wall Street should pay close attention anyway.

US officials said they were told that AstraZeneca may have released outdated information about the results of the trial of its Covid-19 vaccine, a surprise revelation that immediately cast doubt on the company’s claim a day before results showed the injection was highly effective. AstraZeneca said in response that it would share a new analysis of the data within 48 hours.

This situation is very unusual, but investors can find reasons not to worry: it will not affect the finances of the company in the short term. The AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has been widely used in places like the UK, and Dr Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that the vaccine is likely to remain safe and effective. Sales of the vaccine are not included in the company’s full year financial guidance.

Those reasons make some sense, but are ultimately shortsighted. Data you can trust is the backbone of the pharmaceutical business; Physicians, regulators, and the general public must be able to trust that clinical results are valid to sell, approve, or take drugs. Data integrity concerns are rare even for small biotech companies. In the modern era, any issue on this front surrounding a giant like AstraZeneca is unthinkable and especially worrisome during a global pandemic.

Doubts about integrity are difficult to remove once planted. And a good working relationship with US drug regulators is essential even for foreign companies, as that is by far the most lucrative pharmaceuticals market in the world. A slower drug approval process, almost a given for AstraZeneca in the future, makes it harder to compete with rivals developing other drugs.

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