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Bangladesh will not co-fund Sinovac's vaccine trial, health minister says

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh will not co-fund a late-stage domestic trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, the country’s health minister Zahid Maleque told Reuters on Tuesday.

A man works in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, during a government-organized media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

His comments come weeks after Sinovac asked the Bangladesh government to co-fund the domestic trials, which sources said would cost roughly $7 million.

Sinovac informed the health ministry in a letter, seen by Reuters, that a delay in approvals in Bangladesh had resulted in funding getting reallocated to trials in other countries.

“We are not co-funding the trial. That was not in the agreement. They never asked for money when they approached us,” Maleque said.

“As per agreement, they’ll bear all expenses of the trial, they’ll give us 110,000 free vaccines and they’ll share the technology so that our pharmaceutical companies can make the vaccine.”

Sinovac, which last month commenced Phase III trials on its “CoronaVac” vaccine in Turkey, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the letter to the government from September, Sinovac also said it had sought funding for the trial from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) - a foundation backed by public funds and private philanthropy - but this had failed to come through.

“We are working on plans to partially rectify the funding situation by the end of October or early November,” said the company in the letter, but stressed it would still require co-funding to complete the trial in Bangladesh.

The country’s state medical research agency had given a go-ahead to the Phase III trial in July and government approval came a month later.

Maleque said Sinovac was still free to conduct the trial in Bangladesh with its own funds.

“They can conduct the trial. But we can’t co-fund the trial with a private company. It has to be a government-to-government deal if we go for co-funding,” he added.

The minister said Bangladesh was in talks with at least five frontrunners for the vaccine, including Astrazeneca.

Bangladesh reported 22 deaths and 1,537 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, taking the total number of reported cases in the country to 381,275, and the death toll to 5,577.

“We will ensure the best vaccine for our people. We have allocated funds for that and our development partners are also eager to fund us,” Maleque said.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Euan Rocha and Gareth Jones

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