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Drug giant AstraZeneca targets 2 billion doses as race for coronavirus vaccine continues

"Our goal is to leave nobody behind," said AstraZeneca's CEO Pascal Soriot.
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LONDON — A British drug company at the forefront of the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine announced a series of deals on Thursday that will double its manufacturing capacity to 2 billion doses.

"Our goal is to leave nobody behind," said AstraZeneca's CEO Pascal Soriot, after striking deals with a number of partners including Bill Gates that will guarantee early supply to lower income countries.

He added that AstraZeneca had also agreed terms with Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, to supply one billion doses.

Arrangements, backed by the World Health Organization, were also made with epidemic response group CEPI and vaccine alliance GAVI, which hosted a global vaccine summit in London on Thursday, where President Donald Trump delivered a pre-recorded message.

"As the coronavirus has shown, there are no borders," he said. "It doesn't discriminate. It's mean and nasty, but we are all going to take care of it together."

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Although dozens of companies are attempting to find one, it is unclear whether a vaccine can be created to fight coronavirus.

However, AstraZeneca's partnership with Oxford University has already received more than $1 billion in funding for vaccine development from the U.S. after becoming one of a handful of developers to be backed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s COVID task force.

The White House last month secured 300 million of the first doses of the potential vaccine, named AZD1222, last month. The U.K. has booked another 100 million.

Under Thursday’s deals, the company will supply 300 million doses, starting this year, to CEPI and GAVI as it aims at fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine, Soriot said.

The summit came as tensions continue to simmer between the U.S., China and the WHO over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has blamed the WHO for being too loyal to China and helping it cover up the initial outbreak, accusations that both Beijing and the WHO deny.

He announced last week the U.S. would be “terminating” its relationship with the WHO, pulling its funding after the U.N. health agency failed to enact "greatly needed reforms.”

GAVI, a public–private global health partnership, which tries improve access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world's poorest countries, had arranged the summit before the pandemic.

Dozens of world leaders pledged billions of dollars toward global vaccination efforts. The U.S. pledged more than $1 billion.

GAVI’s CEO, Seth Berkley, announced what he called "COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility," which he said will work to accelerate equitable access to coronavirus vaccines globally.

Any country can join by making a commitment to purchase vaccine doses, Berkley said, even those who have already made bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies, giving them a chance to mitigate the risk of not backing a winning vaccine.

Technical details are being discussed and more will be known later this month, he added, as discussions with multiple suppliers are on the way.

Reuters contributed to this report.