British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc said on Saturday it signed a contract with Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands to supply Europe with a vaccine against the coronavirus, with deliveries starting by the end of 2020.
The contract is for up to 400 million doses of the vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford, the company said, adding that it was looking to expand manufacturing of the vaccine, which it pledged to provide for no profit during the pandemic.
"With our European supply chain due to begin production
soon, we hope to make the vaccine available widely and rapidly," Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said in a statement.
The experimentation phase of the vaccine is already advanced and expected to end in the autumn, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a Facebook post.
AstraZeneca has agreed manufacturing deals globally to meet its target of producing 2 billion doses of the vaccine, including with two ventures backed by Bill Gates and a $1.2 billion agreement with the U.S. government.
There are no approved vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
"Many countries in the world have already secured vaccines, Europe has not yet. The rapid coordinated action of a group of member states will create added value for all EU citizens in this crisis," German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.
The European Commission received a mandate from EU governments on Friday to negotiate advance purchases of promising coronavirus vaccines, the EU's top health official said, but it was unclear whether there would be enough money available.