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By John Miller and Stephanie Nebehay
ZURICH/GENEVA (Reuters) - Pfizer aims to make 10-20 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine it is developing with Germany's BioNtech by the end of 2020 for emergency use should it pass tests, the U.S. drugmaker's head of vaccines said on Thursday.
The companies, whose project relies on messenger RNA technology never before used in an approved vaccine, have dosed the first humans in Germany and hope to begin a U.S. trial soon, pending regulators' blessing.
Pfizer, BioNtech and other companies are racing to develop a vaccine, since there are currently no approved treatments and only mixed results of medicines under study against the virus.
Britain's AstraZeneca said on Thursday it had joined with the University of Oxford on a vaccine project also being tested in volunteers.
Making millions of doses within just months, as Pfizer hopes, would mark almost unprecedented speed and require swift regulatory action.
"Of course we need to see and wait to see how the vaccine's efficacy and safety is demonstrated, hopefully in the coming months," Nanette Cocero, global head of Pfizer Vaccines, said on a call organised by Geneva-based industry group International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA).
"Assuming that is demonstrated, we are looking to ramp up manufacturing rather quickly to have around 10 to 20 million doses by the end of this year, which are expected to then of course be used in an emergency type of setting."
Other drugmakers testing more than 70 COVID-19 vaccine candidates include Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, and smaller projects like at Bern's Inselspital hospital in Switzerland.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Countries are risking billions on projects that may prove unsuccessful, out of desperation for a preventative treatment for a virus that has killed more than 200,000 people and lamed the global economy.
Merck Chief Patient Officer Julie Gerberding, a former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said many perils remain.
The novel coronavirus, still a mystery to scientists, may evolve, rendering an initially successful vaccine ineffective, she said.
"We have multiple shots on goal," said Gerberding. "Most of them will not cross the finish line, but I'm really very optimistic that a few will."
Questions also linger over who will get a vaccine first, with potentially painful allocation decisions inevitable.
"We do not want to run lotteries on who gets medicines," IPFMA director Thomas Cueni said. "It will be challenging to ramp up production at such a speed that we will be able to service the world, from day one."
(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by John Miller; editing by Mark Potter)