The U.S. government announced Friday the selection of three “next generation” COVID-19 vaccine candidates, awarding millions of dollars to support mid-stage clinical trials of the shots as part of the Project NextGen initiative.
Launched in May by the Department of Health and Human Services, Project NextGen is designed to advance new COVID therapies and serve as a successor of sorts to “Operation Warp Speed,” which helped bring the first coronavirus vaccines to market.
All told, the federal government is doling out $500 million in new awards, on top on a $1.4 billion in contracts that HHS announced in August.
“Through Project NextGen, we are combining research and development expertise at HHS with the lessons learned throughout the pandemic to protect our nation from COVID-19,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, in a Friday statement.
Under the new awards, CastleVax received $8.5 million for developing its vector-based intranasal vaccine, Codagenix got $10 million for a live attenuated nasal vaccine and Gritstone Bio won $10 million for its self-amplifying mRNA-based vaccine. (Gritstone disclosed the funding last month.)
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is awarding the rest of the $481 million to companies supplying laboratories, tools for preparedness against COVID outbreaks, genome sequencing and cold-chain sample management. Some of the other companies receiving the funding include Vir Biotechnology, Luminary Labs and ModeX Therapeutics.
The investment comes as demand for the current vaccines has waned. Pfizer and Moderna, whose shots dominate the U.S market, have reported declining sales this year. They are currently rolling out recently approved versions updated to target newer circulating strains. But distribution is no longer being centrally managed by the federal government, and uptake has been complicated by patchy availability.
Both companies are now working to develop combination influenza and COVID vaccines. Moderna announced earlier this month positive results for its candidate from an early-stage study, and is targeting an approval in 2025.
A combination shot could make vaccination against the two recurring pathogens more convenient and, over time, Moderna expects the COVID vaccine market to resemble that for flu.