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HHS awards $1.4 billion to drive development of new Covid-19 vaccines and therapies

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By Brenda Goodman, CNN

(CNN) — The US government has awarded more than $1.4 billion to kick-start the development of new vaccines and therapies to fight Covid-19, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.

The funding is part of Project NextGen, a $5 billion government initiative to develop new and more durable vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus, which continues to infect, hospitalize and kill Americans more than three years after its emergence.

“This is an investment in expanding our country’s ability to respond to the future variants that we might see coming out of Covid,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Tuesday.

The funding includes $300 million to the drug manufacturer Regeneron for the development and testing of a new preventive monoclonal antibody, similar to the now-defunct Evusheld, which will help protect people who don’t respond well to vaccines. Clinical trials of the new antibody therapy will begin in the fall.

As the virus has continued to evolve, antibodies like Evusheld have lost their potency against it. There hasn’t been an effective monoclonal antibody to help people with reduced immune function since late January.

Another $1 billion in funding will go to four companies that will lead clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines. HHS says the funding will support phase 2b clinical trials of new types of vaccines. HHS will select the vaccines that will be tested this fall, and the studies will begin over the winter.

Over time, the protection of the Covid-19 vaccines has diminished as new variants have evolved. This has created the need to regularly update the vaccines to keep pace with the virus. Scientists hope they can develop new types of immunizations, including oral and nasal formulations, that may help stop transmission of the virus and perhaps help curb its rapid evolution. Scientists are also testing pan-coronavirus vaccines that are designed to generate antibodies against many different parts of the virus and may offer more complete protection against new variants.

HHS Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell said the funding of clinical trials now will help speed the development of new vaccines, since they should be up and running by the time candidate products are ready to be tested.

The four clinical research organizations that will receive awards to run clinical trials are ICON Government and Public Health Solutions of Hinckley, Ohio; Pharm-Olam of Houston; Technical Resources Intl of Bethesda, Maryland; and Rho Federal Systems of Durham, North Carolina.

Another $10 million was awarded to Johnson & Johnson Innovation for a competition to develop new Covid-19 therapies.

An additional $100 million will go to Global Health Investment Corp., the nonprofit organization managing the BARDA Ventures investment portfolio, to expand investments in new technologies that will accelerate future responses, according to HHS.

Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect title for Dawn O’Connell.

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