AstraZeneca reported Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine provided strong protection among adults of all ages in a long-anticipated U.S. study, a finding that could help rebuild public confidence in the shot around the world and move it a step closer to clearance in the U.S.
In the study of 30,000 people, the vaccine was 79 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19 — including in older adults.
There were no severe illnesses or hospitalizations among vaccinated volunteers, compared with five such cases in participants who received dummy shots — a small number, but consistent with findings from Britain and other countries that the vaccine protects against the worst of the disease.
AstraZeneca also said the study’s independent safety monitors found no serious side effects, including no increased risk of rare blood clots like those identified in Europe, a scare that led numerous countries to briefly suspend vaccinations last week.
“I do hope it puts to bed any doubts about the vaccine efficacy,” Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals research chief, told The Associated Press. “Overall where the vaccine is being used, it’s been shown to be highly effective. So I hope that the U.S. study now will continue to give the vaccine some momentum and get it used even further around the world.”
The company aims to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, and the government’s outside advisers will publicly debate the evidence before the agency makes a decision.
Pangalos said the vaccine could win emergency authorization toward the second half of April. If so, the company would deliver 30 million doses immediately and an additional 20 million within the first month.
What that will mean for America’s vaccination plans is unclear. The Biden administration already projects there will be enough doses for all adults by the end of May thanks to increasing supplies from the makers of the three vaccines already in use in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Federal officials said they didn’t want to prejudge the FDA’s review but cast the AstraZeneca findings as a victory both for the U.S. supply and the global fight against the virus.
“There are very many countries in Europe and throughout the world who have already authorized this, so the fact that a United States-run study has confirmed the efficacy and the safety of this vaccine I think is an important contribution to global health in general,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert.
The AstraZeneca shot, which has been authorized in more than 70 countries, is a pillar of a UN-backed project known as COVAX that aims to get COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.
It has also become a key tool in European countries’ efforts to boost their sluggish vaccine rollouts. That made doubts about the shots especially worrying.
Even before the blood clot scare, scientists hoped the U.S. study would clear up some confusion about how well the vaccine really works. While previous research suggested it was effective in younger populations, there were questions about how well it protects those over 65, often those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Also, Britain authorized the vaccine based on partial results from testing in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa that suggested the shots were about 70% effective. But those results were clouded by a manufacturing mistake that led some participants to get just a half dose in their first shot.
Stephen Evans, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the new data could help allay concerns.
“The benefits of these results will mainly be for the rest of the world where confidence in the AZ vaccine has been eroded, largely by political and media comment,” he said.
Two-thirds of the volunteers in the U.S. study received the vaccine and the rest dummy shots, and Monday’s report is based on the first 141 COVID-19 cases reported after the second vaccine dose kicked in. AstraZeneca declined to provide a breakdown of those cases, as it continues to prepare its FDA submission.
But Fauci said the study was careful to include different ages, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with underlying health conditions, and found “comparable efficacy across ethnicity and age.”
Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the results were reassuring but that more details are needed to back up AstraZeneca’s claims.
“But this should add confidence that the vaccine is doing what it is most needed for,” said Hunter, who was not connected to the study.
On the safety front, France, Germany, Italy and other countries have resumed their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the suspension last week to investigate clots. On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency concluded the vaccine did not raise the overall risk of clots, but could not rule out that it was connected to two very rare types.
In the U.S., as in Britain and Europe, major efforts already are underway to watch for any unexpected problems as the first vaccines are rolling out. And as the U.S. considers AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Fauci said, “You can rest assured that the FDA will put a great deal of scrutiny in every aspect of these data.”
The AstraZeneca shot is what scientists call a “viral vector” vaccine. The shots are made with a harmless cold virus that normally infects chimpanzees. It acts like a Trojan horse to carry genetic material from the coronavirus’s spike protein into the body. That primes the immune system to fight back if the real virus comes along.
Two other companies, Johnson & Johnson and China’s CanSino Biologics, make COVID-19 vaccines using the same technology but using different cold viruses.
Neergaard reported from Washington.
Canadian National challenges Canadian Pacific with $33.7 billion Kansas City bid
By Shreyasee Raj
(Reuters) -Canadian National said on Tuesday it had offered to buy Kansas City Southern railroad for about $33.7 billion, and shares of U.S. company soared as investors anticipated a potential bidding war with Canadian Pacific.
Canadian Pacific had agreed a deal to acquire Kansas City Southern for about $25 billion last month. Either combination would create a North American railway spanning the United States, Mexico and Canada as supply chains recover from being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The acquisition interest in Kansas City Southern also follows the ratification of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement last year, that removed the threat of trade tensions which had escalated under former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Kansas City said it would evaluate Canadian National’s offer. If it found it could lead to a better deal, Canadian Pacific will be given the opportunity to raise its bid.
Canadian National’s cash-and-stock offer, worth $325 per share, is at a 26.8% premium to Kansas City Southern’s offer as of Monday’s trading close.
“We are surprised by this move given the healthy valuation Canadian Pacific had already offered to Kansas City Southern shareholders,” Stephens analyst Justin Long wrote in a note to clients.
Kansas City Southern shares rose 15.8% to $297.12, indicating most investors deemed it unlikely the company would stick with Canadian Pacific’s offer.
One investor that took a different view is Chilton Investment Co, which has a less than 1% stake in Kansas City Southern. Citing regulatory hurdles, it said it preferred a deal with Canadian Pacific.
“There’s more overlap with Canadian National deal which makes it harder to get (regulatory) approval. The Surface Transportation Board (STB) doesn’t like overlap,” Chilton CEO Richard Chilton said.
Canadian National CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest said his network and that of Kansas City Southern are “highly complementary networks with limited overlap.” They only run parallel for 65 miles, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Kansas City Southern has domestic and international rail operations in North America, focused on the north-south freight corridor connecting commercial and industrial markets in the central United States with industrial cities in Mexico. Calgary-based Canadian Pacific is Canada’s No. 2 railroad operator, behind Canadian National.
The STB updated its merger regulations in 2001 to introduce a requirement that Class I railways have to show a deal is in the public interest. Yet it provided an exemption to Kansas City Southern given its small size, potentially limiting the scrutiny that its acquisition will be subjected to.
Canadian Pacific agreed in its negotiations with Kansas City Southern to bear most of the risk of the deal not going through. It will buy Kansas City Southern shares and place them in an independent voting trust, insulating the acquisition target from its control until the STBLatest clears the deal. Were the STB to reject the combination, Canadian Pacific would have to sell the shares of Kansas City Southern, but the current Kansas City Southern shareholders would keep their proceeds.
Canadian National said it was willing to match these terms. It said its offer does not require approval from its own shareholders because of how much cash it has, eliminating a condition in Canadian Pacific’s offer.
Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, which is Canadian National’s biggest investor with a 14.25% stake, said it fully supports the combination.
A private equity consortium led by Blackstone Group Inc and Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) made an unsuccessful offer last year to acquire Kansas City Southern. But it was Canadian Pacific’s announcement of a deal with Kansas City Southern that spurred Canadian National into action, as it raised the prospect of losing out to its rival, according to people familiar with the matter.
(Reporting by Shreyasee Raj and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Anil D’Silva and David Gregorio)
CEO shake-up at Canada’s Nutrien could pave way to M&A: shareholders
By Rod Nickel and Maiya Keidan
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Investors expect the new chief executive of Canada‘s Nutrien Ltd to swing deals as part of a more aggressive growth strategy, after an abrupt shake-up at Canada‘s biggest agriculture company.
Nutrien, the world’s biggest fertilizer producer by capacity, surprised shareholders on Sunday by promoting its chairman, Mayo Schmidt, to CEO, replacing Chuck Magro, who had led the company since it formed from Agrium’s 2018 merger with Potash Corp.
Schmidt, raised on a Kansas farm, is best known for leading the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool grain cooperative’s acquisition of competitor Agricore United in 2007, creating Viterra Inc, one of Canada‘s biggest grain handlers. He subsequently bought Australia’s ABB Grain before leading the sale of Viterra to commodity trader Glencore PLC in 2012.
“Acceleration of M&A is a natural progression as we enter the next commodity supercycle,” said Michael Underhill, chief investment officer at Capital Innovations LLC, which owns Nutrien shares. “I would not bet against him.”
Nutrien shares were down 1.3% on Tuesday, after falling 3.5% on Monday. They have risen about 35% year over year, riding soaring corn prices, but gained only 2% since they began trading in 2018.
Some investors had grown uncertain about Nutrien’s growth strategy under Magro, said Mike Archibald, vice-president and portfolio manager at AGF Investments, which owns C$136 million ($109 million) worth of the company’s stock.
Archibald said now the strategy looks likely to shift to deals.
“The incoming CEO does have a history as a deal-maker so, to the extent he lives up to what he’s done in the past, we should expect sometime in the next 12 months that we’ll get something happening on the M&A front,” Archibald said.
Nutrien could try to acquire U.S. nitrogen fertilizer rival CF Industries, which has a $10-billion market capitalization, or accelerate the company’s roll-up of smaller farm retail stores, Archibald said. A CF spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Conversely, Schmidt could sell off the retail business to focus on fertilizer production, Archibald said.
Nutrien declined an interview request for Schmidt. A company spokeswoman said Schmidt’s plans include following the company’s climate change initiatives, which Magro unveiled this month.
Schmidt may also eye selling Nutrien’s phosphate fertilizer business, even though it recently got a boost from U.S. duties against Russian and Moroccan imports, said Brian Madden, senior vice-president at Goodreid Investment Counsel, a Nutrien shareholder.
The CEO change is positive, as Schmidt has an exceptional record of creating shareholder value, said Scotiabank analyst Ben Isaacson. He added that Nutrien could look to consolidate the nitrogen industry.
Schmidt would find it difficult to sell Nutrien itself, Madden said. There is no obvious domestic acquirer and the Canadian government rejected a foreign bid for Potash Corp in 2010.
“Schmidt has got cred in the ag world,” Madden said. But he added that abruptly changing chief executives is not how successions should occur at large companies.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Canadian Business During the Pandemic
In 2019 the world was hit by the covid 19 pandemic and ever since then people have been suffering in different ways. Usually, economies and businesses have changed the way they work and do business. Most of which are going towards online and automation.
The people most effected by this are the laymen that used to work hard labors to make money for there families. But other then them it has been hard for most business to make such switch. Those of whom got on the online/ e commerce band wagon quickly were out of trouble and into the safe zone but not everyone is mace for the high-speed online world and are thus suffering.
More than 200,000 Canadian businesses could close permanently during the COVID-19 crisis, throwing millions of people out of work as the resurgence of the virus worsens across much of the country, according to new research. You can only imagine how many families these businesses were feeding, not to mention the impact the economy and the GDP is going to bear.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said one in six, or about 181,000, Canadian small business owners are now seriously contemplating shutting down. The latest figures, based on a survey of its members done between Jan. 12 and 16, come on top of 58,000 businesses that became inactive in 2020.
An estimate by the CFIB last summer said one in seven or 158,000 businesses were at risk of going under as a result of the pandemic. Based on the organization’s updated forecast, more than 2.4 million people could be out of work. A staggering 20 per cent of private sector jobs.
Simon Gaudreault, CFIB’s senior director of national research, said it was an alarming increase in the number of businesses that are considering closing.
“We are not headed in the right direction, and each week that passes without improvement on the business front pushes more owners to make that final decision,”
He said in a statement.
“The more businesses that disappear, the more jobs we will lose, and the harder it will be for the economy to recover.”
In total, one in five businesses are at risk of permanent closure by the end of the pandemic, the organization said.
The new sad research shows that this year has been horrible for the Canadian businesses.
“The beginning of 2021 feels more like the fifth quarter of 2020 than a new year,” said Laura Jones, executive vice-president of the CFIB, in a statement.
She called on governments to help small businesses “replace subsidies with sales” by introducing safe pathways to reopen to businesses.
“There’s a lot at stake now from jobs, to tax revenue to support for local soccer teams,”
“Let’s make 2021 the year we help small business survive and then get back to thriving.”
The whole world has suffered a lot from the pandemic and the Canadian economy has been no stranger to it. We can only pray that the world gets rid of this pandemic quickly and everything become as it used to be. Although I think it is about time, we start setting new norms.
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