The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday it would provide up to $1.2 billion to the drug company AstraZeneca to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine from a laboratory at Oxford.
The deal with AstraZeneca is the fourth vaccine research agreement that the department has disclosed, and by far the largest. The money will pay for a clinical trial of the potential vaccine in the United States this summer with about 30,000 volunteers.
The H.H.S. statement said the agency and AstraZeneca “are collaborating to make available at least 300 million doses,” and projected that the first doses could be available as early as October.
That is a very accelerated, ambitious timetable. Most public health experts and scientists caution that a viable vaccine that could be mass produced would probably not be available until sometime next year, at the earliest.
Infectious disease experts also warn that many candidate vaccines take years to perfect, or fail, and in some cases cause such severe side effects that human trials are halted. Plus, billions of doses would be needed around the world.
AstraZeneca said it was also discussing deals for simultaneous production by other companies, including the giant Serum Institute of India, a major supplier of vaccines to the developing world.
The U.S. is distributing billions of dollars to companies to develop vaccines through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
In addition to the money for AstraZeneca, the authority, known as Barda, has already agreed to provide up to $483 million to the biotech company Moderna and $500 million to Johnson & Johnson for their separate vaccine efforts. It has also agreed to provide $30 million to a virus vaccine effort by the French company Sanofi.
Scores of vaccine efforts are underway around the world, and several potential vaccines are now in at least small-scale clinical trials.