US Gives Novavax $1.6 Billion for Coronavirus Vaccine

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The United States has awarded $1.6 billion to Novavax to pay for testing and manufacturing of a possible coronavirus vaccine.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced the government's choice of the Maryland-based company.

The award is the biggest yet under an effort called "Operation Warp Speed." President Donald Trump and his aides set up the program to speed up development of vaccines and treatments to fight COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The department released a statement from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. He said the addition of Novavax's candidate (vaccine) to Operation Warp Speed "increases the odds that we will have at least one safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year."

The Reuters news agency spoke with Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck. He noted that, "What this Warp Speed award does is it pays for production of 100 million doses, which … may be completed by January or February of next year."

The award will also help pay for the cost of a large Phase III trial - the final stage of human testing, which could begin as early as October.

Separately, the U.S. government awarded $450 million to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to make and supply its antibody treatment for COVID-19. Just a day earlier, Regeneron announced that it has started Phase III testing to measure the effectiveness of patients' antibodies in preventing and treating the disease.

Tuesday's announcements follow a $456 million government investment in Johnson & Johnson's vaccine candidate in March and a $486 million award to Moderna Incorporated in April. The government also promised up to $1.2 billion in support in May for a vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca with Britain's Oxford University.

The U.S. government also gave Emergent BioSolutions $628 million in June to expand the country's ability to make a possible vaccine and drugs to treat COVID-19. In total, the government currently supports over 50 programs to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

FILE - Small bottles labeled with a 'Vaccine COVID-19' sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS
FILE - Small bottles labeled with a 'Vaccine COVID-19' sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS

What is Novavax vaccine?

Novavax is somewhat of an unknown in the race for a coronavirus vaccine. The company has yet to produce a licensed vaccine of any kind. And it did not start human safety trials for the coronavirus vaccine until late May.

In May, Novavax received $388 million from a group called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. And the U.S. Defense Department gave the company $60 million in June to support manufacturing of 10 million doses of its vaccine in 2020.

The Novavax vaccine works together with an adjuvant -- a substance that strengthens the body's ability to fight the virus. The French drug-maker Sanofi uses the same basic technology to make flu vaccine "so the risk of us not succeeding is pretty low," noted Gregory Glenn. He is a doctor and president of research and development for Novavax.

Currently, Novavax makes its adjuvant in Sweden. The company is hoping to build factories in the U.S., Europe and India.

Chinese effort to develop vaccines

While coronavirus cases in the U.S. are rising, China's government has reported more success in controlling the disease. This makes it harder for China to conduct large-scale human trials for a possible vaccine. With concerns over issues of quality and safety, Chinese officials are facing difficulties in persuading the U.S. and European countries to cooperate.

This has forced China to bring the government, the military and businesses together in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

China is behind eight of the 19 vaccine candidates listed by the World Health Organization in human trials.

Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center estimated that, as of July 7, the virus has infected nearly 3 million people in the United States. About 130,000 U.S. deaths have resulted from COVID-19. Around the world, the disease has infected nearly 12 million people and killed 540,000.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English with reports from Reuters and HHS. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

odds - n. the chance that something will happen

executive - n. a person who manages or directs other people in a company

dose - n. the amount of medicine that is taken at one time

phase - n. a step in a process

stage - n. a particular point in the development of something

licensed - adj. having official permission to have or do something

conduct - v. to plan and do something

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