One of the programs championed by the White House's Warp Speed coronavirus vaccine project took another step forward Thursday. AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN) signed new agreements on Thursday that will raise the global supply capacity for its experimental SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate to more than 2 billion doses.  

Making alliances

The experimental vaccine candidate that AstraZeneca licensed from Oxford University, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, has a new name: AZD1222. It uses a non-replicating virus to carry genetic material for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which should prime the immune system to attack the actual virus if encountered.

Person loading blood sample tubes.

Image source: Getty Images.

In May, AstraZeneca agreed to supply 400 million doses of AZD1222 to the U.S. and UK. On Thursday, the company reached a $750 million agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the Serum Institute of India (SII) to supply 1 billion doses to low and middle-income countries. 

Testing under way

A phase 2/3 trial of AZD1222 with around 10,000 volunteers has already begun, and other late-stage studies with the vaccine candidate are expected to begin soon. Vaccine development can often be a frustrating endeavor, and there's a strong chance that AZD1222 won't be as effective as is hoped. Despite the risks, AstraZeneca is crossing its fingers and preparing to scale up manufacturing capacity without waiting for evidence the experimental vaccine works.

While demand for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is sky high, AstraZeneca has said it will provide access to AZD1222 to people around the world at no profit during the pandemic.

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