The Trump administration has selected its COVID-19 vaccine finalists for Operation Warp Speed, which aims to deliver safe and effective coronavirus vaccines to Americans by the end of the year, The New York Times reports.
The finalists—from AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna—have a clear Big Pharma slant, with biotechs like Inovio and Novavax being left off the list. Moderna is the smallest company among the group, but the biotech is pressing ahead into mid- and late-stage testing with its mRNA candidate at a record pace.
The vaccine programs selected will get access to additional government funding, clinical trial assistance and manufacturing help, the Times reports, citing senior administration officials. Already, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Merck have scored federal funding for their projects.
Meanwhile, the high-profile partnership between Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline wasn’t included among the finalists, even after Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson set off a controversy last month by saying the company would give the U.S. preorder rights for its vaccine.
Merck’s selection comes only days after the company inked partnerships aimed at advancing COVID-19 vaccines.
For months, amid the worsening pandemic—and as many of its peers piled into COVID-19 vaccine research—Merck had been quiet. But as a leading vaccine producer worldwide, the company clearly has earned the respect of an administration searching for a winning shot.
Operation Warp Speed, officially unveiled last month, aims to speed COVID-19 vaccines to the public in record time. The administration has tapped former GSK vaccine head Moncef Slaoui as a leader for the group that’s incorporating expertise from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and more in the work.