Bengaluru/New Jersey — The US government will pay $1.95bn to buy 100-million doses of Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate if they are able to successfully develop one, the companies said on Wednesday.

The contract is the most the US has agreed to spend on a vaccine yet, but the previous deals the government signed helped pay for drugmakers’ development costs. Pfizer and BioNTech will not receive any money from the government unless their vaccine is deemed to be safe and effective and is successfully manufactured, according to a Pfizer spokesperson.

The agreement allows the US government to acquire an additional 500-million doses, the US department of health and human Services (HHS) and the department of defence said.

The HHS said the vaccine will be made available to Americans at no cost, though their health insurance may be charged.

In clinical trials, Pfizer and BioNTech have been testing vaccines that require two injections. That means a supply of 100-million doses would likely vaccinate 50-million Americans. The deal suggests a US price of $39 for a two-dose regimen.

The Trump administration has agreed to spend billions of dollars for the development and procurement of potential vaccines. The administration launched Operation Warp Speed — a joint HHS and department of defence programme — to accelerate the development of coronavirus vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

More than 150 coronavirus vaccines using a variety of technologies are in development globally, with some two dozen already in human trials. Governments have signed deals with drugmakers to secure the supply of various vaccine candidates.

The US has also signed deals to support development of vaccines by other companies, including Moderna, AstraZeneca and Novavax.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate is among those that are set to be tested in a large trial. The vaccine has shown promise in early-stage small studies in humans. Pfizer will deliver the doses if the product receives emergency use authorisation or licensing from the US Food and Drug Administration, after demonstrating safety and efficacy in a large phase 3 clinical trial.

The companies said they expect to be ready to seek some form of regulatory approval as early as October if the ongoing studies are successful.

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to manufacture up to 100-million doses globally by the end of 2020, and potentially more than 1.3-billion doses by the end of 2021, subject to final dose selection from their clinical trial.

On Monday, the companies agreed to supply the UK with 30-million doses of the vaccine candidate, but did not disclose a price.

Pfizer’s shares rose 2.8%, while BioNTech’s US-listed shares were up nearly 9% in early trading.


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