ROME (Reuters) – AstraZeneca Plc said on Saturday it signed a contract with European governments to supply the region with its potential vaccine against the coronavirus, the British drugmaker’s latest deal to pledge its drug to help combat the pandemic.
The contract is for up to 400 million doses of the vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford, the company said, adding that it was looking to expand manufacturing of the vaccine, which it said it would provide for no profit during the pandemic.
Deliveries will start by the end of 2020.
The deal is the first contract signed by Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA), a group formed by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands to secure vaccine doses for all member states as soon as possible.
At a meeting of EU Health Ministers on Friday, IVA agreed to merge its activities with those of the EU Commission, Germany’s Health Ministry said.
“With our European supply chain due to begin production soon, we hope to make the vaccine available widely and rapidly,” AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said in a statement.
The deal is the latest by AstraZeneca to pledge supply of its vaccine to governments who have scrambled to agree advance purchases of promising coronavirus vaccines.
It has agreed manufacturing deals globally to meet its target of producing 2 billion doses of the vaccine, including with two ventures backed by Bill Gates and a $1.2 billion agreement with the U.S. government.
The deal will add a further 100 million doses to the 2 billion already committed by the group, an AstroZeneca spokesman said.
The experimentation phase of the vaccine is already advanced and is expected to end in the autumn, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a Facebook post.
There are no approved vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Many countries in the world have already secured vaccines, Europe has not yet. The rapid coordinated action of a group of member states will create added value for all EU citizens in this crisis,” Spahn said.
(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte in ROME and Rama Venkat in BANGALORE; additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in BERLIN, Anthony Deutsch in AMSTERDAM and Ludwig Burger; writing by Giulia Segreti; editing by Louise Heavens and David Holmes)