June 26, 2020 / 12:27 PM / 13 days ago

Vaxart says potential COVID-19 vaccine picked for 'Operation Warp Speed'

(Reuters) - Vaxart Inc said on Friday it would test its experimental oral COVID-19 vaccine on monkeys infected with the new coronavirus in a study funded by the Trump administration’s vaccine-acceleration program called “Operation Warp Speed”.

Shares of the U.S. vaccine developer surged 66% to $10.38 in noon trading, extending a dizzying run in its stock price this year as investors bet on drug developers pushing ahead with vaccines or treatments to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 100 vaccines are being tested worldwide against the virus, with only a handful in human testing phase, including candidates from AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. Experts have suggested that clinical trials to guarantee a vaccine is safe and effective could take a minimum of 12 to 18 months.

Vaxart said its vaccine, an oral tablet, is easier to store and administer than injectable ones. It is also testing other oral vaccines, and received U.S. funding in 2015 to develop a flu vaccine.

The company in March signed a deal with Emergent BioSolutions Inc to help manufacture the vaccine.

Vaxart said the study would be organized by “Operation Warp Speed”, a joint program by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense that aims to speed up the development of coronavirus vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

The HHS declined to comment on Vaxart’s vaccine.

The Trump administration had previously announced it put more than $2 billion behind vaccines candidates from Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru, Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shailesh Kuber

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