Hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses developed by a Chinese pharmaceutical company could be included in a World Health Organization (WHO) plan for fair access to vaccines, following a deal announced on Tuesday. Chengdu-based vaccine maker Sichuan Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Inc will receive up to US$328 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), an Oslo-based organisation working with the WHO on vaccine access. The funds will help Clover advance its “S-Trimer” experimental vaccine to phase 2/3 trials and scale up manufacturing to about billion doses a year, Cepi and Clover said in a joint statement. The Cepi-funded doses are expected to be available through Covax, a plan to equitably distribute 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to various participating countries by the end of next year. Cepi is one of two WHO partners leading the programme. The US$328 million investment includes the US$69.5 million Cepi earmarked in April and July for the vaccine’s development. Clover’s candidate was one of nine to receive investment from Cepi to speed up the development of a vaccine to counter Covid-19. Clover is the only candidate from mainland China in the group. How joining vaccine initiative Covax could be shot in the arm for China The latest funding comes amid a race for a vaccine to prevent Covid-19 infections, which passed a new weekly record of 2 million new cases globally. Some 11 months after the disease was first identified 45 vaccines are in clinical trials, but none have been granted universal approval. “Cepi’s expanded investment will fund critical late-stage clinical trials to establish the efficacy of the [Clover] vaccine,” Cepi chief executive Richard Hatchett said. This would happen “in parallel to scaling up the manufacturing process with the goal of making potentially hundreds of millions of doses of this vaccine available to those who need it through Covax, if it is proven to be safe and effective”, Hatchett said. It will also fund clinical studies among special populations, such as people with autoimmune conditions, immuno-compromised individuals, pregnant women and children. Clover chief executive Joshua Liang said the extra funding would enable the company “to advance our S-Trimer vaccine candidate into a global phase 2/3 efficacy study by the end of this year and subsequently to Chinese and global licensure in 2021”. Covax: China’s in, America’s out, but what is it all about? The experimental protein-based vaccine works by mimicking the spike used by the coronavirus to enter human cells. It was shown to produce high levels of neutralising antibodies and appeared to be safe and well-tolerated in phase 1 studies, according to preliminary data announced by the company in September. A total of 150 adults initially received the vaccine in the trial that began in June and was conducted by the company’s Australian subsidiary. Cepi is also funding experimental vaccines from America, Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong. If approved, doses of these vaccines are expected to be included in the Covax plan. Cepi partner Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has said it is also working with other vaccine makers on agreements for doses. How Covid-19 vaccines can win approval from medical regulators More than 180 countries have joined the Covax plan and are eligible to receive enough vaccine doses for up to 20 per cent of their populations next year under the programme. China, which joined last month, has said that it supports agreements between its domestic vaccine developers and Covax. Multiple developers were interested in joining, a spokeswoman said last month. So far no deals have been announced. There are four vaccine candidates from China in phase 3 trials.