US awards new US$628 mil contract to find potential Covid-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON: The US government on Monday entered into a US$628 million contract with drugmaker Emergent BioSolutions to boost manufacturing capacity for a potential Covid-19 vaccine.

As drugmakers race to develop vaccines, tests and therapies for Covid-19, the United States is looking to secure manufacturing capacity under its “Operation Warp Speed” programme announced in May to accelerate vaccine development.

“Securing more manufacturing capacity here in America for candidates that make it to the final stages of Operation Warp Speed will help get a vaccine to American patients without a day wasted,” Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

The HHS task order with Emergent falls under an existing contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a US federal agency that funds disease-fighting technology.

So far, BARDA has invested more than US$2 billion in vaccines and funded over 30 projects, including for diagnostics and treatments.

The agency has awarded grants to Moderna Inc, the first in the United States to begin human trials of a coronavirus vaccine, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson and British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc.

Emergent has been working on development and manufacturing with Johnson & Johnson, Novavax Inc and Vaxart Inc on their Covid-19 vaccine candidates.