U.S. awards new $628 million contract to boost output of potential COVID-19 vaccine

(Reuters) - The U.S. government on Monday entered into a $628 million contract with drugmaker Emergent BioSolutions EBS.N to boost manufacturing capacity for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

As drugmakers race to develop vaccines, tests and therapies for the disease, the United States is looking to secure manufacturing capacity under its “Operation Warp Speed” program 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 U.S. federal agency that funds disease-fighting technology.

Under the contract, Emergent will commit its manufacturing facilities, valued at $542.7 million, to produce COVID-19 vaccine candidates through 2021.

The BARDA award secures capacity for drug manufacturing at the company’s Baltimore Bayview facility, established in 2012 with HHS, and designed for rapid manufacturing of large quantities of vaccines and treatments during public health emergencies, the company said in a statement.

The task order also includes an investment of $85.5 million to expand Emergent’s viral and non-viral drug manufacturing capacity.

So far, BARDA has invested more than $2 billion in COVID-19 vaccines and funded over 30 projects, including for diagnostics and treatments.

The agency has awarded grants to Moderna Inc MRNA.O, the first in the United States to begin human trials of a coronavirus vaccine, Sanofi SASY.PA, Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N and British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L.

Emergent has been working with Johnson & Johnson, Novavax Inc NVAX.O and Vaxart Inc VXRT.O to develop and manufacture their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shinjini Ganguli