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Last Updated : Jul 17, 2020 06:29 PM IST | Source: Reuters

EU in talks with Moderna, BioNtech, CureVac to secure possible COVID vaccines

The talks follow a deal reached in June by four EU states with AstraZeneca for the upfront purchase of 400 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine, in principle available to all 27 EU nations.

Reuters

The European Union is negotiating advance purchase deals of potential COVID-19 vaccines with drugmakers Moderna, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson and biotech firms BioNtech and CureVac, two EU sources told Reuters.

The talks follow a deal reached in June by four EU states with AstraZeneca for the upfront purchase of 400 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine, in principle available to all 27 EU nations.

The information on the ongoing talks was shared by the European Commission, the EU executive arm, with EU health ministers at a meeting in Berlin on Thursday, the sources said.

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The multiple talks confirm the bloc's more assertive stance on procuring potential COVID-19 shots and drugs after Washington's early moves in securing promising treatments and vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"We are in talk with several companies on possible COVID-19 vaccines," a spokesman for the EU Commission told Reuters on Friday, declining to comment on specific firms as negotiations were confidential.

More than 150 possible vaccines are being developed and tested around the world to try to stop the pandemic. Of 23 in human clinical trials, at least three are in final Phase III testing - including candidates from China's Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech and AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

The most advanced EU talks appear to be those with Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi, confirming a Reuters report in June, because the EU is already discussing details on the number of doses needed.

With US giant Johnson & Johnson, the European Union is negotiating a supply of 200 million doses of its potential vaccine, the sources said, adding that additional supplies may also be available.

'ADVANCED TALKS'

The bloc is also planning to secure in the second half of next year 300 million doses of the potential vaccine developed by France's Sanofi in cooperation with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the sources said.

Asked about the negotiations, Sanofi told Reuters it was in "advanced talks with the EU for the delivery of 300 million doses".

Negotiations were also ongoing, sources said, with US firm Moderna, whose experimental COVID-19 vaccine showed this week it was safe and provoked immune responses in all 45 healthy volunteers in an ongoing early-stage study, according to US researchers.

The bloc is also in talks with German biotechnology firms BioNtech and CureVac to buy in advance their potential vaccines, the sources said. Both firms, which have already been offered EU funds to develop their shots, declined to comment.

BioNtech is developing a potential COVID-19 vaccine in cooperation with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, for which 100 million doses could be available by the end of the year.

CureVac is a pioneer in the so-called messenger RNA approach, which is also being pursued by BioNTech and Moderna.

RNA molecules are single-stranded versions of the DNA double-helix that can be produced in a relatively simple biochemical process.

The EU-led talks are conducted by negotiators selected by a steering group in which all 27 EU states are represented.

Once deals are struck, EU states can place orders with drugmakers to secure precise amounts for their populations.

If doses of successful vaccines were not sufficient to cover the whole EU population, shots would be distributed based on demographic and epidemiological data, the Commission has repeatedly said.

A third EU source said the bloc was also renegotiating the deal struck with AstraZeneca by Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, to make sure all EU states had equal access to the doses secured in the initial deal.

The source said this discussion was backed by the four states which first signed the deal.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
First Published on Jul 17, 2020 06:21 pm
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