As COVID-19 vaccines near final stages of testing, governments are also racing against each other, busy securing supply for their own countries even before key efficacy data readouts.
After signing on AstraZeneca and partner Oxford University for 100 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the U.K. government is nearing a £500 million ($625 million) deal with GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi to buy 60 million doses of their investigative shot if it later proves successful, The Sunday Times reported.
The deal, the first for the vaccine, is expected to be announced in the coming days, the British newspaper said, citing people familiar with the matter.
Sanofi and GSK joined forces in April. For their candidate, Sanofi is contributing S-protein COVID-19 antigen based on its recombinant DNA technology that’s also used in its seasonal flu vaccine Flublok, and GSK is offering its vaccine booster AS03.
The U.K. government is clearly eager to pre-empt supply, as initiation of first-in-human clinical trials of the Sanofi-GSK vaccine isn’t expected until September. Securing stock at this early stage reflects its fear of being excluded given that the island nation is reliant on imports of most vaccines, including those for seasonal flu. “The government has anticipated this and is pre-ordering COVID-19 vaccines,” a source told The Sunday Times.
It’s also likely rattled by Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s earlier comment that the U.S. would be given first access to the vaccine in return for its financial support. That statement was soon backtracked by Sanofi Chairman Serge Weinberg after backlash from France.
Prior to the upcoming Sanofi-GSK deal, the British government ordered 100 million doses of another potential COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed AZD1222, from a collaboration between AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
A phase 2/3 study of AZ’s adenovirus-based shot kicked off late May, though phase 1 data remain under wraps. In addition to its home country, AZ has also won backing from the U.S. HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) with a $1.2 billion deal that entails delivery of about 300 million vaccine doses starting this fall. A few days ago, the drugmaker penned another deal valued at $127 million to produce 30 million doses of AZD1222 for Brazil.
Besides the two European candidates, U.S. drugmakers Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and Pfizer—which is working with German firm BioNTech—are also working on their COVID-19 vaccines backed by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed.