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UK orders 90m vaccine doses from Pfizer and Valneva

[LONDON] The UK has signed agreements to buy 90 million doses of vaccines in development by drugmakers including Pfizer, BioNTech  and Valneva, joining countries around the world racing to secure supplies of protection against Covid-19.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to supply 30 million doses of their vaccine candidate this year and next, the companies said. France's Valneva agreed to supply the UK with 60 million doses of the shot it's developing, and another 40 million if the product proves safe and effective.

Britain has already struck a supply agreement for a vaccine being tested by AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford. 

The UK, a nation of 66 million people, described the order for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech as that alliance's first binding agreement with any government. The US has been supporting the companies' efforts through its US$10 billion Operation Warp Speed research programme.

"It's the right thing to be doing to be at the absolute front of the queue to make sure we're in a position to get those vaccines first when they become available," Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the BBC during the government's media round on Monday.

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The vaccine uses a new technology called mRNA, which spurs the body to create specific proteins with its own cells. By contrast, Valneva's experimental product is further behind and relies on technology it's used in another vaccine.

BioNTech said Monday a study of its experimental vaccine conducted in Germany on 60 healthy adult volunteers triggered an antibody response, echoing earlier results from a US test. What's more, researchers found that patients had a T-cell response, which bodes well for their ability to fend off the virus. BioNTech shares surged 10 per cent in Germany. 

The UK also ordered treatments containing antibodies that neutralize Covid-19 from AstraZeneca.

Unlike the Astra and Pfizer collaborations, Valneva isn't in the lead of the coronavirus vaccine race, but the French company would manufacture the product at its factory in Livingston, Scotland. The experimental shot will enter clinical studies by the end of the year and Valneva said it expects the U.K. government to help fund the research.

Chief Executive Thomas Lingelbach said the Lyon-based company may manufacture vaccines for Covid-19 beyond the UK. As part of its pandemic response, Valneva plans to boost investments in its manufacturing facilities both in Livingston and in Solna, Sweden. 

The Valneva vaccine uses the manufacturing technology developed for Ixiaro, the company's shot for Japanese encephalitis. The company is also working on experimental vaccines for Lyme disease and chikungunya.

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