The United States has pledged to pay as much as $1.2 billion to get early access to 300 million doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine being developed and tested in England.
The vaccine is being developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and licensed to British drugmaker AstraZeneca.
It is expected to be delivered as early as October, though that only means the doses will be stored until the vaccine completes clinical trials ensuring it is safe and effective in protecting against COVID-19 infection.
The vaccine is in early clinical trials and being tested for safety, whether it produces antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and whether it protects the immunized from becoming infected with the virus. The first tests began in England on April 23.
Phase 3 clinical studies will begin this summer in both the United Kingdom and the United States, where approximately 30,000 volunteers will take part, according to U.S. Health and Human Services.
The agreement is between AstraZeneca and the United State’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. BARDA will pay up to $1.2 billion to support advanced clinical studies, manufacturing and development.
The contract “is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a news release.
Operation Warp Speed is a White House initiative to speed COVID-19 treatment and vaccines. President Trump has called for the development of 300 million doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine by January as part of the effort.
AstraZeneca said Thursday it is working to secure total manufacturing capacity for one billion doses. It has cut deals for the first 400 million as of Thursday, including 100 million to the United Kingdom and 300 million to the United States.
“AstraZeneca recognizes that the vaccine may not work but is committed to progressing the clinical program with speed and scaling up manufacturing at risk,” the company said.
“At risk,” meaning without knowing definitively that it works or can be safely administered. If it turns out not to, it will be destroyed.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have to authorize the British-made vaccine for it to be made available in the United States.
The experimental vaccine was originally called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 but has been renamed AZD1222.
The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a chimp adenovirus. This is a common virus that in humans causes various low-grade infections such as the common cold.
In the vaccine, it has been genetically altered so it carries proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This stimulates the body to produce antibodies, hopefully protecting the person from becoming infected. The adenovirus itself has been genetically changed so it cannot grow in humans.
Three other vaccine coronavirus candidates — by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Sanofi — have received BARDA support for late-stage development and manufacturing, HHS said Thursday. Published reports show that Johnson and Johnson has gotten at least $500 million in coronavirus vaccine funding from the U.S., Moderna received more than $480 million and Sanofi has received at least $30 million.