Novavax gets $1.6 billion from government to develop coronavirus vaccine

The feds have committed $1.6 billion to help biotech firm Novavax develop its coronavirus vaccine and produce 100 million doses, potentially starting later this year.

The award announced Tuesday is the largest so far from Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to deliver a vaccine by January.

“Adding Novavax’s candidate to Operation Warp Speed’s diverse portfolio of vaccines increases the odds that we will have a safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

The money will help Novavax kickstart production of its vaccine candidate, known as NVX-CoV2373, and fund a phase 3 clinical trial with up to 30,000 participants that is slated to begin in the fall. That study will be crucial to determining whether the vaccine is safe and effective.

Novavax has yet to announce results from its early-stage trial that started in Australia in May, though it expects to have preliminary data by the end of this month. The Maryland-based company’s agreement with the feds will require it to prove it can manufacture the vaccine on a large scale and distribute large quantities of it when needed, according to a news release.

“The pandemic has caused an unprecedented public health crisis, making it more important than ever that industry, government and funding entities join forces to defeat the novel coronavirus together,” Novavax President and CEO Stanley C. Erck said in a statement.

Novavax’s stock price soared 37.4 percent on the news to $109.19 in premarket trading as of 7:25 a.m.

The race for a vaccine that could help end the deadly global pandemic has so far produced 149 candidates, including 19 that are currently in clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization.

Operation Warp Speed previously committed funding to three potential vaccines that are slated to begin phase 3 trials in the coming months. The awards include $456 million for Johnson & Johnson’s candidate, which is due to start the final round of studies in September; $483 million for a candidate from biotech firm Moderna, which aims to start a phase 3 trial this month; and up to $1.2 billion for a vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, slated to begin a late-stage trial in August.

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