WHEN: Today, Friday, November 27th
WHERE: CNBC’s “Closing Bell”
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Oxford University’s Professor Sir John Bell and legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET) today, Friday, November 27th. Following are links to video on CNBC.com:
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
WILFRED FROST: Joining us now Professor Sir John Bell who led and oversaw the vaccine’s development at Oxford and Andrew Lloyd Webber legendary composer and one of the participants in the vaccine trial. A very good afternoon to you both. A pleasure to have you both with us I'm sorry there was some technical issues getting things fired up but good afternoon to you both.
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN BELL: Right. Good afternoon.
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: Hello, good afternoon.
FROST: Professor Sir John, I'll start with you, if I may, and we touch base on Monday and Tuesday when the news flow following your vaccine announcement was universally positive, based on its effectiveness, its relative cost and since then, the tone has, has turned a little bit in terms of the reports, as I just mentioned. Has it turned unfairly? Do you still see this as an overwhelmingly positive set of results?
BELL: Yeah, so I mean there, there's always a problem in announcing scientific results by press release. And, and that is that that you don't have all the data out there and people aren't able to really look and think about the data properly. So I think our position now is that we're in the process of getting a peer reviewed publication out that we'll be able to lay out all the data, so people can examine it and think about it carefully and I'm sure the producers of the other vaccines are probably doing the same and then we'll be in a much better position to know what we're doing. But, but ultimately actually to determine whether this is a safe and effective vaccine it's going to be up to the regulators to do that and again we welcome the fact that they'll be able to look, cast an independent eye on what's going on.
FROST: And of course, all of these trials rest on people volunteering to be a candidate in the, in the vaccine trial and Andrew you were one of those people. Why did you put yourself forward in the first place?
WEBBER: Well, as you probably know I've been fighting to get theaters reopened and indeed all forms of indoor and music spaces, up and down, not only just Britain, but all over America and the world based really on the information that I got very much earlier in the year, in fact January to be precise, from South Korea where live performances have continued all that time. And because I really tried to absolutely bang the drum for live entertainment, it seemed to me that the very least I could do is I don't live that very far from Oxford was to volunteer as an oldie to, to see if I could be accepted onto the trial.
FROST: And Andrew, as your industry, as you know it so well for live theater and live musical performances, how have governments, particularly the UK and the US, responded. Have they been helpful or does the future of your industry rest on science and developments like this vaccine?
WEBBER: Well, obviously, it clearly does depend a great deal on the vaccine but there have been a number of measures, a load of measures that have been applied in say Korea, and in, in Japan, for example, which have mitigated the effects of the virus enormously. And it has been frustrating because one hits the health authorities all the time. Every time you come up with something new, you know, or something you know, old that has been successfully trial in other places, there's always some reason why you can't proceed with it. And I know it's actually frustrating government actually in Britain too. However, we are where we are, and I can only report that I don't know whether I've actually had the real vaccine because of course by the nature of the experiment, I wouldn't know. But if I have, I haven't had any effects from it whatsoever other than feeling great.
FROST: Professor Sir John, whether the results suggest 90% efficacy or the 60% efficacy that we'll dive into in a moment, when is it realistic do you think that we'll be back to normal going to live theater and have herd immunity in countries like the UK and US?
BELL: Well, I think the rollout of the vaccines is likely to happen pretty quickly after, at the end of December beginning of January, and my, my expectation is the UK, which of course is a much smaller pool than the US but we should be pretty substantially vaccinated I would have thought by spring. Maybe late spring but certainly by spring, so I'm hoping we're going to get back to normal and be able to enjoy the theater, as we always did before and I'm completely with Andrew, that we need to work hard to try and get those things back in play.
SARA EISEN: As someone, Sir John, who's trying to read the vaccine results and compare them to what we've gotten from Moderna and Pfizer, can you talk a little bit about why the half dose seemed to work better and be more effective than the full dose and, and whether the age group had anything to do with it? The fact that everyone taking the half dose was below age 55 and whether those confusion questions do give regulators like the FDA and others or should give them pause to approving this vaccine?
BELL: No. So, just to repeat myself. The full data will be published in a medical journal so people can examine it. Taking snippets of data is not a helpful way to make an analysis of what's actually going on. It is absolutely true you need to compare the different populations between the different trials, but you also have to decide what you think efficacy actually is. Is efficacy stopping people getting a cough and a fever, or is it stopping people getting severe disease and being admitted to hospital because you get, you get different numbers for those things and that's important. Or importantly, because this vaccine is the only one that shown it, is it important to show that you stop a symptomatic spread, viral replication that would cause the epidemic to carry on, rather than not carry on. And so, there's a whole set of issues that you need to look at, durability, and ultimately also access to the vaccine, a vaccine that can be relatively readily deployed has advantages as well. Vaccine that lasts a long time that is obviously going to be of importance. So, I think the problem with the press release, you know, who’s, who's got the biggest one is, is actually an unhelpful way to look at the data and that's why I really welcome the regulators having a look at this carefully.
FROST: So, Professor Sir John, are you actually disappointed a little bit in how AstraZeneca, your partners, handled the press release and could you also reflect for us on why you picked them as a partner in the first place?
BELL: Yeah, so we, we’re a university, we're not, we're not a drug company, and it was clear that although we have a lot of experience in developing, discovering and developing vaccines we've never manufactured, commercialized, done the full regulatory package for vaccine. So, we needed, we did need help in terms of doing that and this was back in April we looked around quite hard to try and find a company that could actually help us. AstraZeneca had, didn't have a long reputation vaccines, as you know, they they've done a bit of work in attenuated flu, but they've got quite a strong biological experience and the great thing about this vaccine is it's really easy to make. It's like a biologic, it's like an antibody. So, they were up for helping us and we needed help and it's worked rather well. We've done really lots of things together over the last few months and they’ve lived up to all the things they said they would do for us and we're really pleased to have them as a partner.
EISEN: Do you worry about how many people are going to agree to take the vaccine? There's already such a public skepticism around how fast these vaccines are developed whether corners were being cut and to put out a press release like this that raised so many questions, do you worry that it's going to have an unintended consequence of making people even more skeptical?
BELL: Well I, there's a, there is a, there is definitely an anti-vaccine movement out there which concerns me a bit. I think we're at the beginning, beginning of the analysis of the data. You know are, that's an interim result from us, we still have at least twice as many instant cases to report, we'll report those thoroughly, we’ll report these thoroughly. The regulators can have a serious look and I think the real question is, do you, do you rely on the regulators and I have to say certainly our regulators in Europe, or Europe have proved to be highly reliable and very independent so I think the public in Europe will trust the regulators opinion and, and we will rely on them to come up with a decision.
FROST: Andrew, so Professor Sir John thinks April is viable for things to be getting back to normal. Do you think there'll be huge pent up demand for, for live theater? Are you optimistic about a strong second half of 2021 and what's on the cards, do you have a new musical coming out?
WEBBER: Well, I have my “Cinderella” that should have opened six weeks ago, opening now in May, and I feel very, very optimistic that we will achieve those dates. I mean I've been very, very closely involved with all of the authorities here and also with talking in every week, except for this week because of Thanksgiving but to the Broadway League and monitoring what is going on, obviously, on your side of the Atlantic, and I am very, very positive but certainly as far as Britain is concerned that I think that you know after rather a bumpy probably, you know, going into January and perhaps the beginning of February, I think things will start to get a lot better. And I must say, just coming back to that point of the Professor was making about press releases, I obviously been very interested in this, for, for the reason I want you to get audiences back into the theater. I did have a look very, very carefully at what was the announcement of the other two vaccines and the press release is there, and it was very clear that that's exactly what they were. It was press releases that I don't believe and correct me if I'm wrong but I don't believe that either of them have yet got to the point where the regulators have actually authorized them.
FROST: Definitely they’re at different stages, Andrew, and as you said, we need to wait for all of the full data. In the meantime, I'm also fascinated by what producers like yourself Andrew have done during COVID times and I know you've embraced social media emphatically. I also, I'm sure you saw that Disney paid a lot to have a recording of a stage show in Hamilton as opposed to needing to adapt it into a movie or a TV show, specifically for TV screens as opposed to stage. Is that, has that made you rethink what you want to do with all of your many assets and released, whether it's to Disney + or Netflix, recordings of the stage shows in future as opposed to adapting them fully to movies?
WEBBER: Well we made available all of the movies and all of the recordings for television that were of all of my shows that we could free during lockdown anyway because that, that's something that’s the really least I could do. But I would stress one thing, I'm a theater animal. I'm not really a cinema animal, and I don't believe you can really, really ever, at the moment, have a substitute for the live experience of that extraordinary thing when you go to the theater and you know that that performance is just for you and the other members of the audience. I just don't think you can replicate that. So, whilst I do think that there is a, there is a great value in filming theater and it’s getting much, much better, my concentration has really been to get theater back open again. I did record the whole of the album of “Cinderella” at home in lockdown and with a few, now we've been able to open up a little bit in London in the last few weeks, I did actually add my cast in London and a small orchestra as well but it reminds me a little bit of “Jesus Christ Superstar” 50 years ago which I couldn't get on stage because nobody wanted to put it on stage and so it was recorded first, and now I've had to record “Cinderella” first because I can't get it on stage, the sort of irony. But, you know, the album will come out next year and if, and so that you know I haven't been idle in lockdown in fact it's been the very reverse.
EISEN: Like so many of us, true fact, Wilfred and I’s best ever double date was at a “Phantom of the Opera” production on Broadway. You know in New York, people miss Broadway it’s a huge business, a lot of jobs depend on it, it's not going to come back we think until summer 2021. Andrew, what is that going to look like when it does come back? Do you think there are going to be any permanent changes?
WEBBER: Well I think certainly fans will come back. I just hope the audience is well I mean there are all sorts of things that can be done. I mean, there have been trials done now, which I know the FDA have been looking at very closely of particularly one chemical but in a very small quantity and this chemical has been around for a very long time, actually since the 1940s, appears to neutralize cold and flu viruses and indeed the COVID one, but it hasn't actually been passed yet. I mean there are so many things and then something like that would be a game changer for public transport for any area where you’re in any indoor space, so I'm pretty optimistic that things will get back to normal. And I can also say that there are so many ways that career have proved that they could get back to normal, a lot quicker if they even if the vaccine hadn't been on the horizon but listen, I'm excited about the vaccine, I think we all are. And all I can say is that every time I've been to Oxford, the professionalism and the way that I've been treated, and it's not because of me as I've seen it with everybody else there, has been really, really extraordinary.
FROST: Well, Andrew I think when we, when we're all allowed to go back to that I'll definitely be seeing “Cinderella.” I might actually see “Phantom of the Opera” again for about the 20th time first as my favorite. Professor Sir John, just quick final question. Do you, can you confirm for us whether there will be another set of trials in order to get approval in the US? Or is this a sort of a binary outlook that the data that you already have will be used and either people will approve it or not?
BELL: So I don’t, so I can't give you the answer to that question. They are obviously, the folks at AstraZeneca be managing the regulatory advance in the US. And so, I can't really tell you whether they'll either need another trial or wish to do another trial so that's still an open question.
FROST: Professor Sir John Bell and Andrew Lloyd Webber, a great pleasure having you both with us. Thank you very much for joining us.
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