TOKYO -- Japan is in talks with the U.K., France and other potential partners to set up a $20 billion fund to jointly buy coronavirus vaccine, Nikkei has learned.
The nations aim to establish the purchasing program as soon as this summer, with Japan expected to contribute as much as $800 million or so, according to people familiar with the matter.
As the U.S. and China race to secure stable vaccine supplies for their own populations, Japan and European countries see an advantage in combining their lesser financial resources.
Around 30 nations have said they intend to join the joint purchases, including Italy, Spain, Norway and Canada. The European Union is also involved in the talks. Participating countries would agree to take no more than enough coronavirus vaccine for 20% of their population.
The purchasing program would negotiate with vaccine developers to secure supplies with upfront payments. Proponents of the proposal said it would support vaccine development by giving drugmakers assurance of demand for their product.
A separate purchasing program would be established for developing countries. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged in June roughly $300 million in contributions to the Gavi vaccine alliance, which will serve as the basis for this program.
Japan is supporting domestic drugmakers, including Shionogi and AnGes, that have coronavirus vaccine candidates in development. But such efforts are not expected to bear fruit soon, prompting Tokyo to look to foreign suppliers as well. Japan is in talks with U.K.-based AstraZeneca on a potential vaccine deal.
The U.S., which has suffered the highest COVID-19 death toll, has provided funding to AstraZeneca and France's Sanofi as they develop vaccine candidates. Such moves have triggered a scramble with European capitals over potential vaccine supplies.