The route out of the pandemic became a little clearer on 30 December, with news that the UK Government had authorised the coronavirus vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, in partnership with pharma giant AstraZeneca.

Able to be stored at domestic fridge temperatures of between two and eight degrees-C and based on a two-dose system – with the second jab to be administered within 12 weeks of the first – the vaccine was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. In tandem, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) provided strategic advice on how the first wave of doses should be distributed to priority groups. (JCVI, 30 December 2020)

In a statement, the University cited its collaboration with AstraZeneca as “crucial to the successful development of the vaccine and vital for its global manufacturing and distribution across the world” – with the pharma firm having arranged to provide three billion doses via more than 30 different supply agreements and partner networks. (University of Oxford Press Office, 30 December 2020)

The statement further notes: “A key element of Oxford’s partnership with AstraZeneca is the joint commitment to provide the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic across the world, and in perpetuity to low- and middle-income countries.”

In an article the previous day, The Times named AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot as its Business Newsmaker of the Year, and shone a light on his firm’s joint endeavour with the Oxford team. (The Times, 29 December 2020)

According to the piece, seeds of the collaboration were sown in a spring 2020 phone call between Soriot and Oxford’s regius professor of medicine Sir John Bell, who had served alongside the AstraZeneca boss earlier in their careers on the board of Swiss healthcare firm Roche. Concerned that his team was out of its depth, Bell had explained to Soriot that the unit required the support of a large pharma firm to realise the vaccine’s full potential.

Bell told The Times: “[Soriot] didn’t need any persuading. He said, ‘My kids would kill me if I didn’t do this.’ He was motivated by really important integrity and ethics. That is not straightforward if you’re running a company owned by shareholders.”

What does Soriot’s response to Bell’s plea show leaders about the values that have driven and informed the collaborative work behind the vaccine?

The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Across the various accounts of how the Covid vaccines have been developed, one recurrent theme is the emphasis on collaboration – whether that’s transnational, inter-organisational, between individual scientists or even encompassing the large numbers of volunteers who have taken part in clinical trials. And what we can conclude from these collaborations is that they bring many different people’s value systems into play in a complex web.”

She notes: “Soriot’s comment about how his ‘kids would kill’ him if he didn’t direct his firm to help the Oxford team illustrates the extent to which leaders are influenced by every facet of their lives. Yes, they are making business decisions – but never in a vacuum. They’re making them as part of a larger ‘ideas ecosystem’, comprised of lots of different people with lots of different values. And as leaders, they must factor each of those contributions into their thinking as they prepare to make critical decisions.”

Cooper adds: “If you enter into collaborations, different value systems will be brought to bear on those endeavours, affecting and influencing the decisions that are made. In this case, the web of values that underpinned the joint working between AstraZeneca and Oxford was able to galvanise the rollout of the vaccine.”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on integrity and decision making

For best-practice guidance on effective joint working between different organisations, check out our October 2018 report Building Collaborative Capacity


Source refs:

JCVI, 30 December 2020

University of Oxford Press Office, 30 December 2020

The Times, 29 December 2020