Merck (MSD) has signed an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals (JPI), one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, to support the manufacturing and supply of its Covid-19 vaccine.

Merck’s US facilities will be utilised for the production of the drug substance, as well as the formulation and filling of vaccine vials for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had earlier authorised the single-shot Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the country.

Merck became the ninth manufacturer to be part of Johnson & Johnson’s global network, with the latest manufacturing arrangement encouraging increase in the vaccine production capacity.

The company also entered an agreement with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

The deal will enable the agency to extend funding of up to $268.8m to the company for adapting and equipping several of its existing manufacturing facilities for the production of SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19 vaccines and medicines.

Merck Human Health executive vice-president Mike Nally said: “We are steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic as part of the remarkable efforts of the entire medical and scientific community.

“This funding from BARDA will allow us to accelerate our efforts to scale up our manufacturing capacity and enable timely delivery of much needed medicines and vaccines for the pandemic.”

In a separate development, AstraZeneca (AZ) said that the first batch of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses started reaching low and middle-income countries through the COVAX initiative.

Last week, the first COVAX shipments were sent to Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, with more expected to start reaching countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Mongolia and Moldova this week.

The company intends to deliver the vaccine vials to a total of 142 countries over the next months.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the UK is set to get ten million doses of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII).