AstraZeneca taps Emergent as U.S. partner for potential COVID-19 vaccine

FILE PHOTO: The company logo for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is displayed on a screen on the floor at the NYSE in New York

By Saumya Joseph

(Reuters) - AstraZeneca Plc on Thursday picked Emergent BioSolutions Inc to help produce the 300 million doses of the British drugmaker's potential COVID-19 vaccine pledged to the United States.

AstraZeneca has inked manufacturing deals globally to meet its target of making 2 billion doses of the vaccine, including with two Bill Gates-backed ventures and a $1.2 billion agreement with the U.S. government.

The company's vaccine is among the first to move into mid-stage trials and the first indication of its effectiveness would likely be available in June or July. There are no approved vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Experts have cautioned that a safe and effective vaccine could take at least 12 to 18 months from the start of development.

There are more than 100 potential vaccines in development, and AstraZeneca's partnership with Oxford University is one of a handful to be backed so far by U.S. President Donald Trump's COVID-19 task force.

Emergent signed a $628 million contract with the U.S. government last week to help secure manufacturing capacity for a potential coronavirus vaccine through 2021.

The company, which helps produce vaccines and treatments, said on Thursday it would provide AstraZeneca with development services, analytical testing and drug substance process under the agreement, valued at about $87 million.

Emergent is also working to boost manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines under development at Johnson & Johnson, Novavax Inc and Vaxart Inc.

The company said it would reserve large-scale manufacturing capacity for the AstraZeneca vaccine through 2020 at its Baltimore Bayview facility, which can produce up to hundreds of millions of doses annually.

AstraZeneca did not respond to Reuters request for further details.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel and Sriraj Kalluvila)