Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) announced on Thursday that they intend to advance multiple SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates into human clinical testing, with the first clinical trials potentially beginning by late April. The two companies began their collaboration focused on developing a vaccine for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in March.

Details of the collaboration

Pfizer will pay $185 million upfront to BioNTech -- $72 million in cash and $113 million as an equity investment. BioNTech also could receive future milestone payments of up to $563 million. Pfizer is funding all vaccine development costs initially, but BioNTech will repay half of those costs to Pfizer from sales of COVID-19 vaccines developed through the collaboration, assuming the companies' efforts are successful.

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What BioNTech brings to the partnership is its proprietary messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine platform. Pfizer offers years of expertise in vaccine research and development, along with significant resources to guide a candidate through the regulatory approval process and its global manufacturing and distribution network. 

The two drugmakers plan to work together in evaluating COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the U.S. and Europe. If a vaccine wins the necessary regulatory approvals, they will co-market it worldwide, except in China, where BioNTech already has a collaboration agreement with Fosun Pharma.

An expanding race

Two early-stage clinical studies in humans evaluating COVID-19 vaccine candidates have already started. A phase one trial evaluating Moderna's experimental mRNA COVID-19 vaccine began in March. And Inovio kicked off its phase 1 study of COVID-19 vaccine candidate INO-4800 earlier this week. At least eight other drugmakers aside from Pfizer and BioNTech are also in the race to develop a vaccine.

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Keith Speights owns shares of Pfizer. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.