Washington — As countries race to secure an effective vaccine for the coronavirus, the Trump administration announced it is partnering with drugmaker AstraZeneca for at least 300 million doses of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and committing up to $1.2 billion to the effort.
President Trump has sought to expedite the development of a coronavirus vaccine through Operation Warp Speed, as many public health officials have said that a return to normalcy in the U.S. would rest on the widespread availability of a vaccine to protect against the virus. Mr. Trump said last week Operation Warp Speed aims to make millions of doses of a vaccine available by the end of 2020.
Through its partnership with AstraZeneca, the Department of Health and Human Services can provide up to $1.2 billion to speed up development and manufacturing of the coronavirus vaccine called AZD1222, with the first doses delivered as early as October, the health agency said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called the administration's deal with AstraZeneca a "major milestone" in the Operation Warp Speed initiative.
"The Trump administration is making multiple major investments in developing and manufacturing promising vaccines long before they're approved so that a successful vaccine will reach the American people without a day," he said.
The AZD1222 vaccine candidate was developed by Oxford in the United Kingdom and licensed to AstraZeneca, headquartered in Cambridge, England.
The deal between the drugmaker and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a component of the Department of Health and Human Services, supports a Phase 3 clinical trial with 30,000 participants and a pediatric trial.
AstraZeneca said it has concluded agreements for at least 400 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine and secured manufacturing capacity for 1 billion doses, with the first deliveries beginning in September. A Phase 1/2 clinical trial of AZD1222 began in England last month, with data from the trial expected "shortly," the company said.
Scientists from Oxford University's Jenner Institute have defended its coronavirus vaccine in the wake of criticism in a Forbes article last week about its effectiveness in monkeys. The article compared Oxford's vaccine with a vaccine candidate from China-based Sinovac Biotech.
According to Oxford's team, safety trials in monkeys for both vaccines demonstrated "clear promise, with high efficacy in each case against lung disease, and research on both vaccines should continue as planned." The team said both vaccines "were able to provide clear protection against lower respiratory tract infection in the respective models."
The scientists added that "with similar safety and efficacy the single dose Oxford vaccine, now partnered with AstraZeneca, would be preferred to a three dose vaccine for cost, manufacturing and operational reasons."
In addition to working with the U.S., the drugmaker is also in discussions with international groups such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization for allocation and distribution of the potential vaccine worldwide.
While there currently is not an approved vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, several drug manufacturers are developing candidates. Moderna Therapeutics, a biotech firm, said Monday it saw positive results from a Phase 1 trial that included a small number of participants. The company's president Dr. Stephen Hoge told "CBS This Morning" earlier this week it is proceeding to a Phase 2 trial, with Phase 3 expected to begin by early summer.