India's Cipla gets nod to distribute partner Moderna's COVID vaccine

June 29 (Reuters) - Indian drugmaker Cipla Ltd (CIPL.NS) has received regulatory approval to distribute partner Moderna Inc's (MRNA.O) COVID-19 vaccine in the country, a senior government official said on Tuesday, clearing the way for the shot to be imported.

Moderna's vaccine will be the fourth shot authorized for use in India, after AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and partner Serum Institute of India's Covishield, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Sputnik V developed by Russia's Gamaleya Institute.

"Our vaccine basket is now richer by this addition," government official Vinod Kumar Paul said at a news briefing on Tuesday, adding the government remained in talks with Pfizer (PFE.N) over the drugmaker's vaccine.

After a fall in coronavirus cases from a devastating second wave last month, India has doubled down its efforts to vaccinate its 940 million adults amid fears of a third wave of infections.

The country has administered 61 million doses in the last two weeks starting June 12, more than the number of people who signed up for shots during the period, indicating an improvement in supplies after widespread shortages. read more

The government officials did not provide any further details on the partnership between Moderna and Cipla and how the vaccine, which is based on messenger RNA technology, will be imported.

"I want to thank the government of India for this authorization, which marks an important step forward in the global fight against the pandemic," Moderna's Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel said.

Cipla is supporting Moderna with the regulatory approval and the import of vaccines to be donated to India, the company said in an email, adding that "at this stage, there is no definitive agreement on commercial supplies."

India had in May scrapped local trials for "well-established" foreign coronavirus vaccines to accelerate its vaccination rollout and the officials confirmed that the vaccine developed by Moderna will not require so-called bridging trials.

Earlier in the day, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) said it was in talks with the Indian government to explore ways to speed up delivery of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine. read more

So far, India has administered 331.1 million doses, more than the overall shots administered in the United States. The country's vaccination rate proportionate to the number of the population, however, is much lower than for many other countries.

Moderna's two-dose vaccine has been widely used in several regions, including the United States and Europe, but may face some cost and distribution hurdles in India as the shot requires cold storage.

"Moderna is coming in ready-to-inject form as there is no manufacturing base" in India, Paul said. "But we also hope, going into the future, Moderna should produce this vaccine on Indian soil."

Reporting by Mrinalika Roy, Bhargav Acharya and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai and Neha Arora in New Delhi; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Bernadette Baum and Mark Potter

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