Israel signed a deal Tuesday with US biotech firm Moderna to supply it with a vaccine against COVID-19 if the company’s drug development is successful, Hebrew-language media reported.
The company announced last week that it will enter the third and final stage of its clinical trial in July with 30,000 participants.
The reports come as countries jostle to ensure that they will be among the first to receive vaccines when they are developed.
The reports did not divulge any of the parameters of the deal, which was reached following negotiations reported Sunday by Channel 13.
A Health Ministry source was quoted by the Israel Hayom daily as saying the deal “isn’t the last word” on the vaccine front.
“No country is putting all their eggs in one basket, and it is expected that deals will also be signed with other companies,” the unnamed source said. “That is the correct approach and it distributes the risk.
“It is important to remember that if Israel doesn’t ‘buy’ its place now, we could have to wait one or two years after the vaccine is approved. Regarding cost considerations it is important to remember that a single day of closure costs the economy billions.”
Moderna’s vaccine effort is a global frontrunner, alongside a vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca, which has also launched a large-scale trial on 10,000 volunteers and expects results by September.
AstraZeneca on Saturday announced plans to begin delivering 400 million doses of the vaccine to European countries by the end of this year under the agreement with the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance, formed this month by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. All other EU member states will have the chance to take part under the same terms as the original alliance members.
Moderna’s third-stage trials allow scientists to observe, using a large healthy population, whether the vaccine is more effective than a placebo at preventing COVID-19 and also whether it can prevent infection with the coronavirus that causes the disease.
The framework for the study was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is being conducted in collaboration with the US National Institutes for Health (NIH).
Moderna has received $483 million in US government funding, and on May 18 announced its first results among eight participants from the first phase of testing, which were seen as encouraging.
If the dose amount chosen for the trials of 100 micrograms proves effective, Moderna expects to be able to make 500 million doses per year, or even up to a billion.
Moderna is one of five companies that the administration of US President Donald Trump is betting on to deliver, under its “Warp Speed” push for a vaccine.
The others are the Oxford vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer.
The goal is to produce 300 million vaccine doses by January 2021.
Moderna’s vaccine relies on implanting the genetic code of a portion of the virus inside the human body in order to elicit an immune response. So-called messenger RNA vaccines have not been proven so far against any virus, but Moderna is confident it works.
After Phase 2 trials the company’s Israeli chief medical officer said that its experimental anti-COVID-19 vaccine “actually works,” after tests on a small number of volunteers.
“We got the first results today… and today we are showing that it actually works… we are able to stimulate the immune system,” Dr. Tal Zaks said.
The deals are the latest in a series of agreements to produce the vaccines — even though it is not certain they will work to prevent coronavirus infections. Because of the desperate need for a vaccine amid the pandemic that has killed more than 439,000 people worldwide, drug companies are scaling up manufacturing with human trials still under way.