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EU pays $384 million for Sanofi-GSK COVID vaccine as WHO scheme deadline looms

BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) - The European Union has agreed to buy a potential COVID-19 vaccine from Sanofi and GSK in its second such deal to secure supplies, as a deadline for joining the World Health Organization’s (WHO) vaccine purchase programme looms.

FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The deal will see the French and British drugmakers, which have teamed up to manufacture a recombinant protein-based vaccine they hope to get approved next year, provide the EU with up to 300 million doses in exchange for a down payment of 324 million euros ($384 million).

Friday’s agreement confirms an announcement made on July 31 by the two companies and follows an earlier deal between the EU and AstraZeneca for the supply of up to 400 million shots after a down payment of 336 million euros.

In return for the right to the doses, the European Commission will finance part of the upfront costs faced by vaccine producers. The vaccine doses themselves will be bought by EU countries.

The latest deal comes on deadline day for members of the WHO to join its COVAX scheme, which aims to buy COVID-19 vaccines and ensure immunisations are fairly and efficiently distributed.

So far, 92 lower-income nations are seeking assistance via COVAX, part of the WHO’s ACT Accelerator to boost development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to combat the pandemic.

Some 80 higher-income nations have expressed interest, but many have yet to join as they scramble to secure supplies separately.

France will provide funding for the initiative but will not source shots through it, a health ministry official said on Thursday, after Paris decided to be part of a joint scheme arranged through the EU.

There is currently no internationally-approved vaccine for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, which has claimed more than 946,000 lives and derailed the world economy.

For Sanofi and GSK, the deal follows a $2.1 billion agreement with the United States in July for 100 million doses, with an option for Washington to purchase an additional 500 million, as well as a UK deal for 60 million doses.

Sanofi and GSK started clinical trials of their vaccine this month and aim to reach the final testing stage by December.

The vaccine candidate uses the same recombinant protein-based technology as one of Sanofi’s seasonal influenza vaccines. It will be coupled with an adjuvant, a substance that acts as a booster to the vaccine, made by GSK.

The two companies are scaling up manufacturing to be ready to produce up to one billion doses per year.

Sanofi is also working on another potential COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. company Translate Bio, using a technology called mRNA.

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($1 = 0.8440 euros)

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio, editing by Louise Heavens

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