Coronavirus Vaccine Update as Bill Gates-backed Firm Could Make 200 Million Kits a Year

As novel coronavirus cases surpass 16.2 million across the globe, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, revealed 200 million COVID-19 vaccine kits could potentially be produced yearly from June by South Korea's SK Bioscience, a pharmaceutical company backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Meanwhile, the phase three trial of a vaccine being developed by U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna begins July 27, following additional funding of up to $472 million secured for the development of its vaccine candidate, the company confirmed.

There are currently 166 potential COVID-19 vaccines being developed across the globe, according to the July 24 report by the World Health Organization (WHO). Twenty-five of the vaccine candidates are currently under clinical evaluation, while 141 are at their preclinical stages, according to WHO.

South Korea

In a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Gates, co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, revealed that 200 million vaccine kits could be produced per year starting next June if SK Bioscience develops a successful vaccine, a spokesperson for the Cheongwadae (the executive office and official residence of the South Korean president) confirmed at a briefing Sunday.

Gates said he was "impressed by South Korea's response" to the novel coronavirus outbreak, noting he believed "Korea is at the forefront of vaccine development in the private sector," South Korea's Donga newspaper reported.

He said, "If SK Bioscience, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported for research and development, succeeds in vaccine development, it will be able to produce 200 million vaccines annually from June next year," according to the Cheonghwadae.

Gates said "we will further strengthen the cooperation between the Korean government and the Gates foundation," to work with Moon on other global health issues in addition to COVID-19, the letter said, South Korea's Hankyoreh newspaper reported.

"I look forward to working with the Korean government to benefit people and people in difficult situations around the world," the billionaire philanthropist wrote in the letter.

Back in May, SK Bioscience received $3.6 million in research funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest private charitable groups in the world, to support its development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

Gates also congratulated South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook on her appointment as the honorary president of the Korea support committee for the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), an international agency dedicated to vaccine research and development, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

Newsweek has contacted SK Bioscience for a comment.

SK Bioscience is also a contract manufacturer for the AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company which last month announced it would be supplying up to 400 million doses of its AZD1222 vaccine (formerly known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine) to European Union countries. The vaccine has been developed by researchers at Oxford University's Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group in the U.K.

South Korea coronavirus medial workers
Medical workers wearing protective clothing against COVID-19 heading to decontamination area at the Keimyung University hospital in Daegu, South Korea on March 12, 2020.


The phase three trial of Moderna's mRNA-1273 vaccine, conducted in collaboration with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), is expected to begin Monday with around 30,000 participants, Moderna confirmed in a statement Sunday.

The company announced an expanded contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), securing additional support of up to $472 million for the late-stage clinical development of its candidate vaccine, the statement confirmed.

Moderna is on track to be able to produce approximately 500 million vaccine doses per year, and possibly up to a billion doses per year starting in 2021, the company confirmed in the statement.

Last month NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci noted that vaccine development efforts are "moving very quickly," noting a potential vaccine could be available by the end of the year or "the first few months of 2021."

Pennsylvania-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals, the developers of the INO-4800 vaccine, last month announced that preliminary analyses indicated 94 percent of its phase one trial participants showed "overall immune responses at week six after two doses of INO-4800 in trial with 40 healthy volunteers," the company noted in a statement at the end of June.

The company is expected to begin a "U.S. phase two/three efficacy study this summer upon regulatory concurrence," the company stated.

The phase one trial of the NVX-CoV2373 vaccine, developed by Maryland-based biotechnology firm Novavax, began in May. The phase two trial looking at immunity, safety and disease reduction will begin shortly after July, the company confirmed.

Last week, the company announced the first batch of the vaccine began production at a Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies (FDB) site in North Carolina. Novavax secured $1.6 billion in funding from the U.S. government, aiming to deliver 100 million doses of the vaccine beginning as early as late 2020, the company noted in a statement last week.


Russia's vaccine trials were reported to have been successfully completed last Monday. The results indicated long-term immunity could be established, the country's ministry of defense noted last week.

The ministry stated: "Test results clearly show that all volunteers developed an immune response as a result of vaccination. There are no side effects, complications or undesirable reactions, health complaints from the volunteers at the time of discharge."

The First Deputy Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Ruslan Khadzhismelovich Tsalikov, told Moscow's Argumenty i Fakty newspaper, "Without exception, all volunteers, having received immunity from the coronavirus, felt fine. Thus, the first domestic vaccine against the new coronavirus infection is ready."

The third phase of Russian's vaccine trial is expected to begin in August. The country aims to have 30 million doses of a vaccine for the virus this year, and hopes to achieve "herd immunity" next year, according to Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive officer of Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is funding the development of the vaccine.


In addition to the vaccine candidate being developed by AstraZeneca, another potential vaccine is in development at Imperial College London, which could be available for use by the first half of 2021.

Earlier this month, clinical trials for the vaccine moved onto the next phase with an expanded number of participants.

Dr. Katrina Pollock, the clinical lead on the Imperial study, said: "We have had a promising start but it remains too early to speculate whether our vaccine candidate will be effective in preventing infection. The early clinical trials are progressing well."

Professor Robin Shattock, the head of the vaccine development team at the university, told Sky News earlier this month: "We anticipate if everything goes really well, that we'll get an answer as to whether it works by early next year."


Back in May, Chinese biopharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics launched the first human trials for its Ad5-nCoV vaccine. The results of the trials indicated the vaccine appeared to be safe and induced immune responses in most participants, researchers said this month, Reuters reported.

The company was also reported to be in discussion with Russia, Brazil, Chile and Saudi Arabia to begin a phase three trial of its vaccine candidate, Qiu Dongxu, the executive director and co-founder of CanSino, confirmed at an antiviral drug development conference in China this month.

The phase three trial is likely to begin "pretty soon," with 40,000 participants to be recruited for the trial, according to Qiu, Reuters reported.

A new factory under construction in China is expected to allow 100 to 200 million doses of the vaccine to be produced per year from early 2021, Qiu noted.

Two other vaccine candidates in China, developed by Sinovac Biotech and a unit of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), have already been approved for phase three trials, Reuters reported.

Sinopharm will have a vaccine ready for the public before the end of this year, the chairman of Sinopharm, Liu Jingzhen, told China's state broadcaster CCTV, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are currently in development.

Coronavirus Covid-19 Vaccine Statista
Coronavirus vaccine development. Statista

The graphics below, provided by Statista, illustrate the spread of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

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Update 7/28/20: This article was updated with an infographic.

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