At least two COVID-19 vaccine companies receiving millions of dollars from the U.S. government plan to eschew profits or set a single global price if their vaccines prove successful.
A House subcommittee on Tuesday is set to grill the heads of five pharmaceutical companies leading the effort, revealing differing timelines and thoughts on cost and access. They are AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna and Pfizer.
The United States has so far invested nearly $2.3 billion in the effort to find a vaccine to stop SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which has killed more than 140,000 Americans.
AstraZeneca said it will make two billion doses of its vaccine on a non-profit basis, according to prepared remarks posted Monday night by Executive Vice President Menelas Pangalos.
The British-Swedish company has entered into agreements with the U.S. and several other countries and organizations to supply vaccine.
“The cost of the doses of the vaccine under those agreements will provide no profit for AstraZeneca,” the statement said.
AstraZeneca, which is creating a vaccine in conjunction with the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford, said Monday it hopes to have a vaccine available by early next year.
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The United States paid $1.2 billion for access to 300 million doses of the candidate vaccine through Operation Warp Speed, a White House task force focused on bringing therapies and vaccines for coronavirus to market as soon as safely possible.
A paper published Monday gave hope to the overall success of possible vaccines. The results showed the Oxford candidate vaccine, AZD-1222, led to strong immune responses for nearly two months in a trial that continues to track more than 1,000 healthy adults.
Pangalos said his company plans to supply approximately two billion doses globally to provide “broad and equitable access.” The company is building parallel supply chains around the world to produce those doses, he said.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson will charge one price globally for its vaccine, regardless of country or income tier, according to the written statement of Dr. Macaya Douoguih head of clinical development and medical affairs.
The company is committed to making an affordable COVID-19 vaccine available on a “not-for-profit basis for emergency pandemic use,” her statement said. It will pursue external validation for calculating the price point and will make an external audit or certification available.
The company has received approximately $500 million from Operation Warp Speed for its work.
Johnson & Johnson plans to being testing its vaccine candidate in humans late this month in the United States and Belgium. If preliminary results are positive, it will launch a global Phase 3 clinical trial in September.
Phase 3 trials are the final and largest testing stage for vaccines once they have become established, don’t cause immediate adverse effects and provoke an immune response. COVID-19 Phase 3 trials will involve 30,000 patients for each vaccine candidate and take many months.
U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck is pursuing two possible vaccine candidates. It is focused on its long track record developing vaccines and the need for safety, and was open-minded about the possibility that a breakthrough is not a given.
“If approaches developed by others ultimately are proven superior to those being pursued by Merck, we will work to support those efforts for the benefit of global health during the pandemic,” said the statement by Dr. Julie Gerberding, the company’s executive vice president and chief patient officer.
Merck holds the record for creating the fastest vaccine ever brought to market, a mumps vaccine in 1967 that took four years from start to finish. But the company has repeatedly emphasized safety over speed in its COVID-19 work.
“Speed is important, but we will not compromise scientific efficacy, quality, and above all, safety, despite the sense of urgency we all feel,” said Gerberding’s testimony.
Merck’s CEO, Kenneth Fraizer, said last week a vaccine can’t be rushed and rigorous science is necessary.
“When people tell the public that there’s going to be a vaccine by the end of 2020, for example, I think they do a grave disservice to the public,” he said during an interview with the Harvard Business School.
Merck has received $38 million for vaccine research from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Moderna has made agreements with a Swiss-based vaccine manufacturer with sites in the United States and around the world, which will allow it to reach an annual manufacturing capacity of more than 500 million doses, according to the statement by company president Dr. Stephen Hoge.
Its candidate vaccine research has been partially facilitated by $536 million from Operation Warp Speed.
Moderna, headquartered in Massachusetts, hopes to begin Phase 3 clinical trials of its vaccine candidate this month, its president, Dr. Stephen Hoge, said in his written statement.
Phase 1 results were presented last week. The vaccine appears to be safe and to trigger an immune response. Whether the immune response is enough to protect someone from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 remains unclear, according to several experts who reviewed the results.
Alone among the five companies that will testify Tuesday, Pfizer has not taken any money from the U.S. government as it works on four different vaccine candidates for COVID-19.
“We are uniquely positioned with the scientific expertise and experience, manufacturing scale and financial resources to have the potential to deliver a potential vaccine without funding from the federal government,” John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, said in a prepared statement.
He anticipated the company will invest about $1 billion in its vaccine development efforts during 2020.
Pfizer is partnering with a German biotech company BioNTech to work on a COVID-19 vaccine. It is currently running early state clinical trials in the U.S. and the European Union.
Last week it announced two of its four vaccine candidates had received fast-track designation from the Food and Drug Administration. It hopes to begin Phase 2 testing later this month.
If the clinical trials progress well, the company hopes to manufacture up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020, and potentially more than 1.3 billion doses in 2021 globally, Young’s statement said.
Contributing: Karen Weintraub
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 vaccine House hearing — A non profit or low price possible