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EXCLUSIVE-J&J says in talks with Japan, Gates Foundation to lock in deals on COVID-19 vaccine

(Adds details on discussions, background on AstraZeneca’s deals)

July 16 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson is in talks with the government of Japan and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about locking up allocations of its potential COVID-19 vaccine in advance of it producing any of the medicines, the company’s Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk told Reuters in an interview.

It has already agreed to prioritize an allocation to the United States as part of its funding agreement with U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), he said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would focus on allocating any vaccine it acquired to developing countries, Wolk added. Reuters previously reported that J&J is also in talks with the European Union.

“Nothing has been finalized yet. We continue to have those discussions,” Wolk told Reuters. “People from the countries and the organizations we mentioned want to lock in a certain minimum level of capacity that they would get.”

Wolk said that the “general construct” of the discussions is likely to take a form similar to AstraZeneca Plc’s deal with the U.S. government, which provided $1.2 billion in drug development aid to the U.K. drugmaker in exchange for locking in a delivery of around 300 million doses for fall 2020.

AstraZeneca has also signed a contract with France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands for up to 400 million doses of its potential vaccine.

Wolk added that these discussions will help Johnson & Johnson determine pricing for its vaccine, which the U.S. drugmaker intends to sell on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic.

“The more demand we have the better and lower that cost would potentially be,” Wolk said.

In its Thursday earnings call, J&J said it plans to start its first human trials of its COVID-19 vaccine on July 22 and could kick off phase 3 studies as soon as September.

Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker

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