Britain has become the first country to secure supply of a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and US pharma giant Pfizer, signing an agreement for 30m doses to be delivered over the next two years.
The companies’ coronavirus vaccine is one of 23 currently being evaluated in clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization, and will soon be tested on 30,000 volunteers, following positive preliminary data.
BioNTech and Pfizer, which aim to have “some form of regulatory approval” in the US for their vaccine by October, have previously said they have the capacity to manufacture 100m doses by the end of the year, and more than 1.3bn by the end of 2021.
The UK’s decision comes after Germany spent €300m to take a 23 per cent stake in BioNTech’s competitor, CureVac, which is also developing a Covid-19 vaccine, following reports that the Trump administration had attempted to secure supply for the US.
Last month, four EU countries — France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands — signed a deal to secure for up to 400m doses of a potential vaccine from AstraZeneca, which has teamed up with Oxford university.
The drugmaker, which says it has the capacity to manufacture 2bn doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, has signed similar agreements with the UK, US, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the global vaccine alliance.
The US has also invested more than $1bn in vaccine efforts by biotech firm Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
In May, Paul Hudson, chief executive of Sanofi, another Covid-19 vaccine developer, sparked outrage after he told Bloomberg News that the US “has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk”, and was rebuked by France’s Emmanuel Macron.
BioNTech, which was the first EU company to proceed to clinical trials of its coronavirus vaccine, has also attracted investment from Singapore.
“We are in advanced discussions with multiple other government bodies and hope to announce additional supply agreements soon,” said Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s co-founder and chief executive.
This month, BioNTech released initial data from its trial in the US, which found that two dozen participants had generated immune defences that were similar or stronger than those found in recovered coronavirus patients.
Preliminary results from the company’s German trial are due within days and the company expects to start a third study in Asia, in conjunction with China’s Fosun, within weeks.
If the trials are successful and lead to a certified product, the UK will purchase its 30m doses for an undisclosed sum.
Alok Sharma, Britain’s business secretary, said the government was “making sure people most at risk in the UK are vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as a safe vaccine becomes available, by partnering with the world’s foremost pharmaceutical and vaccine companies”.
BioNTech is one of several companies developing a coronavirus vaccine using messenger RNA technology, a process that is faster than traditional methods, but which has yet to lead to a marketable product.