AstraZeneca taps JCR Pharmaceuticals, Daiichi Sankyo and other local pharmas to supply COVID-19 shots to Japan

Japan has been slow to ink major COVID-19 vaccine purchase deals like those dominating headlines in the U.S. and Europe, but after last week's tie-up with Pfizer and BioNTech, the country kept the ball rolling with a second order from another major player in the coronavirus vaccine race. 

Japan has agreed to buy 120 million doses of AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford's adenovirus vaccine hopeful, Reuters reported Friday, quoting the country's health minister, Katsunobu Kato.  

Should the shot cross the regulatory finish line, AstraZeneca will begin deployment to Japan next year, with an initial 30 million doses expected by March, Tokyo-based Kyodo News said. The British drugmaker plans to launch additional vaccine trials in Japan before month's end. 

Financial terms are still under wraps, but Japan is eager to keep the COVID-19 supply pacts coming. 

"We want to reach a final contract as quickly as possible, as well as proceed with negotiating with other vaccine developers," Kato said. 

AstraZeneca will produce the vaccine in part with Japan's JCR Pharmaceuticals, with plans to import the remaining doses from overseas, the company said. Meanwhile, a host of local drugmakers, from Daiichi Sankyo to KM Biologics and Meiji Seika Pharma, will also bolster Japanese supplies of the AstraZeneca shot. 

The exact nature of Meiji Seika and KM's role in the inoculation effort is unclear, but AstraZeneca has confirmed that Daiichi will tackle packaging and storage, in line with earlier talks between the drugmakers.

In late June, Tokyo-headquartered Daiichi announced it was hammering out a fill-finish pact with AstraZeneca to shore up vaccine supplies in Japan. Negotiations between the drugmakers commenced after AstraZeneca agreed to sit down with the Japanese government for broad vaccine supply talks, Daiichi said. Under that deal, a subsidiary of the Japanese drugmaker, Daiichi Sankyo Biotech, was set to receive Oxford's undiluted vaccine, which it would then finish at its own facilities. AstraZeneca has tapped both Daiichi Sankyo proper and its Biotech label in the latest supply pact. 

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Meanwhile, Japan is rounding out its vaccine offerings via advance purchase and production deals with other shot majors. 

Last week, the country locked down 120 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's mRNA vaccine, set for delivery in the first half of 2021. The order for Pfizer's two-dose vaccine regimen covers inoculations for 60 million people in the country of roughly 126 million, Kato said.

Japan is also negotiating supplies of Johnson & Johnson's candidate, Reuters reported last month; while the terms of that deal are still undisclosed, CFO Joe Wolk said the final agreement would likely resemble AstraZeneca's $1.2 billion development pact with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), penned in May. 

And the same day news broke about the AstraZeneca vaccine agreement, Maryland-based shotmaker Novavax tapped Japan's Takeda to handle development, production and sales of its recombinant protein shot in-country. Takeda will receive government funding to scale up its shot-making brawn, with expected capacity for 250 million doses of Novavax's jab per year. 

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For AstraZeneca's part, the contract with Japan provides a foothold in its quest to churn out 2 billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine, dubbed AZD1222, throughout the world by 2021. Under the global inoculation drive, AstraZeneca has already eked out massive orders in a number of regions, pledging 300 million doses apiece to the U.S. and the E.U., along with 100 million doses for the U.K. and another hundred million to Brazil. 

Earlier this week, the British major filled out its global vaccine strategy through a licensing deal in its second-biggest market, China. BioKangtai will furnish doses of AstraZeneca's shot in-country, with the option to expand into other markets at a later date, the drugmakers said. While the companies kept mum on financial terms, BioKangtai expects to produce 100 million doses by the end of 2020, with the goal to boost capacity to 200 million doses per year by 2021's close.