European Union ambassadors on Wednesday met to declare, among other things, that the EU would use a $2.7 billion fund to buy promising COVID-19 vaccines. European countries haven’t been as proactive as say the United States or Canada, or for that matter the United Kingdom, in securing ahead of time promising vaccines. Hence, countries such as Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands were accelerating their negotiations with various pharmaceutical companies for such vaccine access while they are still in development.
The EU group told a Reuters reporter, “The European Union is preparing to use an emergency 2.4 billion euro ($2.7 billion) fund to make advanced purchases of promising vaccines against the new coronavirus.”
U.S., UK & Canada more Active
For whatever reason, the U.S., UK and Canada have appeared more proactive in working to buy in advance vaccines still in development. The United States under the Trump Administration established Operation Warm Speed to accelerate vaccine and therapy access to take on COVID-19. Highlights include a $1 billion bet with AstraZeneca (Oxford University vaccine) for 300 million doses and $483 million on Moderna. The U.S. government has allocated funds to Pfizer (BioNTech—a German vaccine maker), Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and others.
In the meantime, the UK government has been very active in pursuing vaccine candidates. By April, the UK set up a task force with the objective of improving the odds of a vaccine for COVID-19. They include AstraZeneca, again pairing with Oxford University, as well as invited representatives from academic and research, including Sir John Bell, to their “life sciences champion” along with the prominent Wellcome Trust. Led by GSK’s former R&D head and now the UK government chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, the group has worked closely with the UK’s industry lobby called the Bioindustry Association (BIA). BIA also established an industry-led group targeting a UK vaccine. By April, the UK government had already announced investments in 21 new coronavirus projects. By May, the UK’s government had allocated at least $250 million into COVID-19 related projects, helping to pay in advance for 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.
TrialSite News was one of the first to highlight the national vaccine deal between Canada’s federal government deal and Chinese vaccine maker CanSino Biologics. They have since gone on to make other announcements, and the government just recently purchased 37 million syringes to administer a vaccine.
In the meantime, China’s government plans on administering a COVID-19 vaccine to at least some people even if an actual vaccine hasn’t been approved by then! Gao Fu, head of that nation’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, recently discussed the National Immunisation Programme evolving guidelines determining who would be eligible for the vaccine.
China has so few COVID-19 cases now; however, there is concern that the biotech companies developing the vaccines may have a hard time actually completing the development effort. As reported in the South China Morning Post, they wouldn’t have sufficient cases for any meaningful analysis and comparisons. During a recent meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, Mr. Fu declared, “The National Immunisation Programme is paying close attention and studying what groups of the population can take the shots, when to take them and what may constitute emergency use of vaccines.”
India: One Company is Key Driver
The largest vaccine makers in the world, as measured by volume, the Serum Institute of India would more than likely be a player in any successful vaccine. Privately held, the company is a subsidiary of the holding company of Poonwalla Investment & Industries, founded in 1896 and now controlled by billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla. By March, the company was investing in the manufacture of the Oxford University vaccine (same one that AstraZeneca has embraced and the U.S. has invested in).
This company is powerful; their CEO Adar Poonawalla commented for Reuters that when vaccines are a topic of concern, most often the attention goes to the pharmaceutical developer and not the company that is perhaps the most powerful player in all vaccine development worldwide and associated with up to 70% of all vaccine manufacturing.