FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labeled with a “Vaccine COVID-19” sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration

By Aakash B

(Reuters) – The United States will pump up to $1.2 billion into developing AstraZeneca’s potential COVID-19 vaccine and said on Thursday it would order 300 million doses, as the White House seeks solutions to the coronavirus pandemic.

The commitment provides for a possible U.S.-based clinical trial this summer involving 30,000 volunteers and adds fuel to the British drugmaker’s efforts to develop a vaccine for the disease, one of around 100 which are under way worldwide.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he hoped the first doses of the vaccine, which is being developed with the University of Oxford in England, would be available by October, with the full order delivered by early in 2021.

However, AstraZeneca stressed that the vaccine may not work and that it was still waiting for results from an early stage trial in southern England, before any moves towards late stage testing.

There are so far no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19 among those being tested by pharmaceutical giants across the world, and experts predict a safe and effective means of preventing the disease could take 12 to 18 months to develop.

Under the deal with the U.S. government, its Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will pay up to $1.2 billion to support advanced clinical studies and other development activities, including scaled-up manufacturing to speed up the roll out of the potential vaccine.

AstraZeneca had already signed an agreement to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine to the British government and it reiterated it hopes to start delivery in September.

The British company also said in a statement that it expects to be able to deliver a billion doses of the potential vaccine this year and next, if tests are successful.

It said that testing would also include a paediatric trial and that it was was engaging with international bodies, including the World Health Organization, for the fair allocation and distribution of the potential vaccine around the world.

Other drugmakers including Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are in various stages of vaccine development.

U.S.-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals said on Wednesday its experimental vaccine produced protective antibodies and immune system responses in mice and guinea pigs.

Another U.S. firm, Moderna, this week released positive data for its potential vaccine, which it said produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, putting it ahead of others in the race.

(Reporting by Aakash Jagadeesh Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Patrick Graham and Alexander Smith)