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Pharmaceuticals

AstraZeneca to supply Japan with 120m COVID-19 vaccine doses

Tokyo's second deal, after Pfizer agreement, diversifies early-stage supply

AstraZeneca aims to bring its coronavirus vaccine on the market in September, with shipments to Japan starting early next year.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- AstraZeneca will provide 120 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine now in development to Japan under a basic agreement announced Friday by the Japanese government.

Shipments are slated to begin in early 2021, with Japan receiving 30 million doses by March, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.

The timing of the initial shipments would have them arrive before the start of the postponed Tokyo Olympics. Whether one or two doses will be administered per person remains unclear.

The British drugmaker, which has licensed the vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford, aims to put it on the market as early as September.

Testing will begin in Japan as early as this month. JCR Pharmaceuticals will make part of the vaccine, while four other companies, including Daiichi Sankyo, will help provide a domestic production base.

Tokyo reached a deal in July with Pfizer for 120 million doses -- enough for 60 million people, or roughly half the country's population -- of the American company's coronavirus vaccine candidate. It will continue negotiations with other drugmakers as well.

The government also said Friday that it will provide subsidies to six companies -- AstraZeneca, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Daiichi Sankyo, Shionogi, AnGes and KM Biologics -- mainly for production infrastructure. The payments will total up to 90 billion yen ($853 million).

Twenty-six vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are in clinical trials worldwide, though not all will necessarily be effective. The health ministry looks to ensure output can ramp up quickly once a successful candidate is found.

Takeda on Friday announced a deal with Novavax to produce the U.S.-based biopharmaceutical company's COVID-19 vaccine candidate at its plant in the southwestern Japanese city of Hikari, with Novavax providing needed technology. Shionogi, AnGes and KM Biologics all plan to manufacture their own vaccines.

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