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The Trump administration has identified five companies that will get major government funding for the development of a coronavirus vaccine under Operation Warp Speed, the New York Times reported yesterday. The White House is expected to officially announce the names of the five companies on the short list sometime in the next few weeks.

The companies named by the Times include Moderna (MRNA), a partnership between Oxford University and AstraZeneca (AZ), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Merck (MRK) and Pfizer (PFe.) The five companies will get federal funds, help to run their clinical studies and manufacturing assistance.

Two companies with big vaccine ambitions, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi (SNY) did not make the cut.

In related news AstraZeneca announced an agreement with India’s Serum Institute to produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine that might be produced by its partnership with Oxford University for distribution to the world’s poorer countries. The company also has a $750 million deal with GAVI, the global vaccine alliance, to produce 300 million does for distribution to poorer countries.

This week Moderna initiated Phase II trials of its RNA-based vaccine candidate. AstraZenica/Oxford University’s vaccine candidate began a Phase I/II trial last month. Johnson & Johnson expects to begin its Phase I trials by September. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech dosed the first patients in the United States in the phase I/II clinical study for BioNTech’s mRNA-based vaccine program last month. Merck has acquired private Austrian biotech Themis, which has a vaccine candidate, based on its measles virus vector platform,  in preclinical development with clinical studies expected to start later this year. Merck has also signed a collaboration with a nonprofit research organization, IAVI to co-develop a vaccine, designed by IAVI scientists that uses Merck’s ebola virus vaccine platform.

Merck is a member of my Dividend Portfolio.