The US Has Pledged $5 Billion To Pharma Giants for a COVID-19 Vaccine. Who Will Win?

Vaccine candidates backed by the U.S. government are in their final stages of efficacy tests.

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is near its final lap. Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In mid-May, the Trump administration formed a coronavirus task force dubbed Operation Warp Speed with the goal to fast-track the development of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment and make sure that Americans are the first to receive them once they are available. Since then, the U.S. government has poured nearly $5 billion through the Warp Speed initiative into a handful of vaccine developers to back the research and, in some cases, production, of their promising vaccine candidates.

Some of these vaccines are in the final stage of safety and efficacy tests and could be available in hundreds of millions of doses by the end of the year—if they work. Below is our latest count of all the COVID-19 vaccine frontrunners and their research progress.


Total government funding: $955 million

Earliest available date: Early 2021

Boston-based biotech startup Moderna has received nearly $1 billion in government funding to back its COVID-19 vaccine development.

In April, the company received $483 million from the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an office under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), when its experimental vaccine was in an early-stage trial conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

On Sunday, Moderna said it has received another $472 million from BARDA to support the development of its coronavirus vaccine. The additional funding will support late-stage clinical development including a large-scale phase 3 trial, which starts on Monday.

“Encouraged by the Phase 1 data, we believe that our mRNA vaccine may aid in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing future outbreaks,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a press release on Sunday.

Moderna’s phase 3 trial will recruit about 30,000 participants. The company said it’s on track to deliver about 500 million doses per year starting 2021.


Total government funding: $1.95 billion

Earliest available date: Late 2020

Last week, Pfizer and its German vaccine partner, BioNTech, struck an enormous $1.95 billion contract with BARDA to manufacture 600 million doses of their mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, with the first 100 million possibly available by the end of this year. It’s the largest government pledge under the Operation Warp Speed to date.

Under the agreement, the U.S. government will buy the first 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine as soon as it clears FDA approval or emergency authorization at about $20 a dose and distribute them for free to American citizens. The government will also have the option of ordering an additional 500 million doses in the future.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is expected to enter phase 3 human trial this month, with regulatory review set for as early as October. The partners plan to produce 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020 and 1.3 billion doses total by the end of 2021. The companies didn’t receive government funding for research and development.


Total government funding: $1.2 billion

Earliest available date: September 2020

In May, the Warp Speed team agreed to award British pharma giant AstraZeneca up to $1.2 billion to produce doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed at a University of Oxford lab.

Last week, AstraZeneca reported positive results from its large-scale phase 1 human trial. The vaccine is currently in a global phase 3 trial.

AstraZeneca said the U.S. government funding will allow it enough capacity to produce one billion doses. Pending regulatory approval, the first batch could be available as soon as September.


Total government funding: $1.6 billion

Earliest available date: Early 2021

Earlier this month, the Trump administration made a similar production deal with Novavax, pledging $1.6 billion to fund manufacturing up to 100 million doses of the startup’s experimental vaccine by early 2021.

Novavax didn’t receive other government funding in early development stages. But the project has received $388 million in research funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI), a nonprofit founded by Bill Gates in 2015, as part of its $2 billion worldwide COVID-19 vaccine fund.

The US Has Pledged $5 Billion To Pharma Giants for a COVID-19 Vaccine. Who Will Win?