Not wanting to be left behind in the COVID-19 vaccine race, Europe is stepping up its efforts to secure supplies should any immunizations prove safe and effective. Right on the heels of news that the U.S. has picked vaccine finalists to fast-track, Europe is considering negotiations with pharmaceutical companies for early access, Bloomberg reports.
The European Union has asked member countries for the power to negotiate development and access deals with drugmakers, the news service reports, citing an internal memo. The EU is expected to unveil more information about the plan next week, according to the report.
No final decisions have been made, but if the mandate were approved, Europe would base its program on the U.S.’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the report says. The agency has handed out billions of dollars in contracts for promising COVID-19 vaccines, therapies and diagnostics in return for access if the technologies work. BARDA last month inked a $1.2 billion deal with AstraZeneca, which is advancing a leading vaccine from the University of Oxford.
The European Commission is already fundraising for a potential manufacturing scale-up, Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile, four countries in Europe are teaming up for their own vaccine partnership. Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and France have formed the “Inclusive Vaccine Alliance” with the aim of producing a vaccine “on European soil,” Agence France Presse reports. The governments are in discussions with pharma companies and “are convinced that a successful result requires a joint strategy and investments,” the Dutch Health Ministry said in a statement quoted by AFP.
The moves come after Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson warned that Europe could fall behind in the COVID-19 vaccine race. In a Bloomberg interview, he said the U.S. would get pre-order rights for Sanofi's vaccine thanks to BARDA's early investment, setting off a controversy. Shortly after, Sanofi chairman Serge Weinberg said the company wouldn’t prioritize countries in its potential vaccine rollout.
Already, about six months into the pandemic, 10 vaccines are in human trials and more than 120 are in preclinical testing, according to the World Health Organization. This week, the U.S. picked its five finalists for “Operation Warp Speed,” which aims to deliver vaccines to Americans by the end of the year. Those vaccine programs are from Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca.