The European Union is planning to leverage an emergency fund worth $2.7 billion to buy promising COVID-19 vaccines ahead of approval. Four countries, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, told a meeting of EU ambassadors yesterday they planned to accelerate negotiations with biopharmaceutical companies to access vaccines that are currently being developed.
The fund, called the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), would be used to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity in Europe. It would also offer liability insurance to drug companies, since they are scaling up manufacturing of vaccines ahead of proof of viability and safety in hopes they will turn out to be safe and effective.
This is not particularly unusual under the current circumstances. On May 1, the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) paid more than $1 billion to AstraZeneca, which is partnered with the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts, to support the development, production and delivery of the vaccine beginning this fall. On June 2, the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed signed a $628 million contract with contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) Emergent BioSolutions to accelerate domestic production of leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates through 2021.
Many of the smaller biotech companies working on COVID-19 vaccines have partnered with larger biopharma companies to handle distribution and manufacturing. These include Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and Switzerland’s Lonza, as well as individual efforts by GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, and Sanofi. There is a recognition that with a need to vaccinate most of the world, no one company or product is likely to be sufficient.