Europe May Race the U.S. for Early Vaccine Access With Deals

(Bloomberg) --

The European Union is looking to join the global race to secure early access to future coronavirus vaccines, seeking deals to share the cost of development with pharmaceutical companies.

The EU’s executive arm has asked the bloc’s 27 governments for a mandate to negotiate with the companies for advance contracts and reservations for doses of promising candidates, according to an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg. Health ministers will discuss details of the plan in a video conference next week.

There is growing concern in Europe that the region will fall behind the U.S. or China in obtaining supplies of any shot that proves successful. In the memo, the European Commission warns that the move is necessary after the U.S. struck similar agreements. These include a pledge of as much as $1.2 billion to AstraZeneca Plc to help make the University of Oxford’s Covid vaccine. The commission has already led a funding drive to develop and manufacture candidates.

The EU plan aims to emulate the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is “financing different projects even before any are proven to work, with the hopes of having two or three successful candidates that allow for quick distribution among U.S. citizens,” according to the memo, dated May 25.

EU government envoys in Brussels debated the proposal on Wednesday, with the commission’s representative saying the bloc must invest in several trials and risk losing some of the money or else be left at the end of the line when a vaccine is found. No decision was taken on whether to grant the Commission a mandate to represent national governments in the talks with pharmaceuticals.

Asked to comment on Bloomberg’s report, European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the commission has been consulting with EU capitals and industry, wants a synchronized position in the bloc and will present a “strategy” in the coming weeks. “A joint approach toward industry is the best way to ensure a fair and timely access to a vaccine for our citizens. An EU strategy for Covid-19 vaccines would define the exact needs and help maximize access to the vaccine when it becomes available,” Kyriakides said in an emailed statement.

‘Inclusive Alliance’

Meanwhile, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands agreed to set up an “Inclusive Vaccine Alliance” to jointly negotiate with coronavirus vaccine developers and potential producers, the Dutch Health Ministry said in a separate statement on Wednesday. The four countries are “exploring several promising initiatives” and are in talks with several pharmaceutical companies, the Netherlands said.

The four countries would like to include the EU Commission in the talks and offer other EU members the possibility to participate in any initiatives that result from the alliance, according to the statement. The goal of the alliance is to secure enough vaccines for the EU and other countries, the Dutch ministry said.

Under the plan floated by the Commission, the EU would seek joint procurement and provide financial support up front with the condition that member states would have the right to buy the necessary doses from that company. Some regulatory procedures among member states will need to be streamlined, such as simplifying labeling requirements and loosening restrictions on genetically modified products, the EU executive arm said in the memo.

Health officials have urged countries to avoid so-called vaccine nationalism. Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson sparked outrage in Paris last month with a suggestion that the U.S. may get the drugmaker’s vaccine first after the country provided funding for its development through BARDA.

“From our side, universal access should be the end goal, and our efforts to support research and speed up the process will not only benefit us, but the global community as a whole,” Kyriakides said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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