Health group CEPI to help fund Indian drugmaker's COVID-19 vaccine

FILE PHOTO: Illustration of vials and dry ice

BENGALURU (Reuters) - The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will help fund the production of a COVID-19 vaccine by Indian drugmaker Biological E. Ltd, the global epidemic response group said on Tuesday.

CEPI will contribute an initial amount of up to $5 million and will consider providing more funding to help produce 100 million doses of the potential vaccine next year, the group and Biological E. said in a joint statement

The Hyderabad-based company's COVID-19 vaccine candidate is currently in early- to mid-stage trials, with plans to start late-stage trials in April.

Indian health authorities expect to begin a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month in the country that accounts for the world's second-highest coronavirus infections at about 10.22 million, but has seen a decline in daily cases since a peak in September.

"(Biological E.'s) vaccine candidate has the potential to be produced at scale, and characteristics which could make it suitable for broad distribution in developing countries," said Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of CEPI.

Norway-based CEPI, along with the GAVI vaccine alliance and the World Health Organization, leads the COVAX alliance that aims to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries. CEPI is backed by 14 governments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Britain's Wellcome Trust.

The Indian government is expected to give emergency use approval for a COVID-19 vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca within days.

Local regulators are also considering similar approvals for the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and another developed by India's Bharat Biotech.

(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)