The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it is awarding $1.4 billion in grants through its coronavirus initiative to fund the development of “a new generation of tools and technologies to protect against COVID-19 for years to come.”
Through the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded the grants to a collection of pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations. Part of the funding aims to develop longer-lasting coronavirus vaccines.
The awards are part of Project NextGen, an initiative led by ASPR that fosters public-private partnerships to develop the next generation of COVID-19 countermeasures. These are the first grants to be issued from NextGen, which has an initial investment of $5 billion. Officials said Tuesday they currently don’t anticipate the need for additional funds.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, returning from a visit to India where leaders of the Group of 20 countries are gathering, said in a Tuesday press call that world leaders expect to reach a “global consensus” on coordinating a global response to pandemics by May.
“President Biden isn’t waiting until next year to be ready for whatever comes next,” said Becerra, adding that the program is “really going to help us make sure we’re ready for whatever comes around the corner. And we don’t want to wait till we get to the corner to figure out what that is.”
Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, said the HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) held more than 55 meetings with companies over the past few months focusing on the development of future coronavirus technologies and tools.
The bulk of the grants — $1 billion — was awarded to four clinical trial partners of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. These partners are ICON Government and Public Health Solutions Inc., Pharm-Olam LLC, Technical Resources International Inc., and Rho Federal Systems Inc.
“By activating these clinical trial partners and making them available to partner with manufacturers we are also reducing the financial burden on companies looking to invest in this space,” O’Connell said. “Getting the candidate through Phase IIB trials can be cost prohibitive for some of the smaller biotech companies.”
Another $326 million was awarded to Regeneron for the development of a monoclonal antibody to prevent COVID-19 infections. Regeneron developed the monoclonal antibody known as REGEN-COV during the early parts of the pandemic, at one point being the only treatment available for the virus. The efficacy of Regeneron’s first antibody diminished as newer variants arose.
Robert Johnson, director of BARDA’s medical countermeasures program, said Tuesday that Regeneron was looking to start a clinical trial this fall.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation was granted $10 million for its Blue Knight competition, which focuses on next-generation technologies that enhance preparedness to future infectious disease threats.