The French pharma boss who could save the UK from Covid-19: We speak to AstraZeneca chief about hopes for an NHS-ready vaccine in September

Not only that, the Astra chief executive believes he is in a leading position to produce some of the most promising compounds to treat the disease. But through sheer willpower, a can-do attitude and working 24/7, Soriot is hopeful that AZ will have a vaccine ready to be used in the NHS as soon as September of this year. In his first newspaper interview since lockdown he told the Daily Mail: 'We are confident it will work. If approvals can be won by September or October, he and his colleagues have put in place the manufacturing capacity across the world to produce up to 2billion doses almost immediately. 'The study in the UK is moving very rapidly,' he says, though the slowdown in the number of cases is an issue. The UK pharma group has the world at its feet, having moved so far ahead in producing a vaccine and developing palliative treatments using its own labs and science. Before we hold our Zoom conversation, at 10am Soriot has already held separate calls with several unidentified health ministers from major Continental European countries seeking advice and assistance. Soriot, a Frenchman who has Australian citizenship, is marshalling his war against coronavirus from London – a world away from his family home on a bay overlooking the Sydney landscape. He is best known in the City as the French scientist who bravely fought off American pharma behemoth Pfizer when it launched a takeover bid in 2014. At the time, much of the City and David Cameron's Conservative government were urging the company to accept the £90billion bid. No one envisaged that six years later, amid the greatest health crisis of modern times, AZ would sit proudly at the top of the FTSE 100 with a market value of £110billion, something Soriot downplays. So is it true that amid all the Covid-19 drama AstraZeneca flirted with the idea of a merger with cash-rich American rival Gilead? The most remarkable aspect of AstraZeneca's pursuit of a Covid-19 vaccine is the speed with which the group has assembled manufacturing capacity. 'We have built three independent supply chains, one for the US, one for Europe and one for Asia and low and middle-income countries. The UK will be first in line for the vaccine because it 'has made a decision quickly and because of the history with Oxford'. AZ also has a promising product called Calquence, which could inhibit Covid's deadly attacks on the lungs and other organs.