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Health

British Scientists Launch Social Enterprise to Ensure COVID-19 Vaccine Reaches World's Poorest

By Sarah Shearman

LONDON, June 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A team of British scientists developing a coronavirus vaccine has set up a special company to distribute it if they are successful, rather than partnering with a big pharmaceutical company, to ensure access for the world's poorest.

The scientists from London's Imperial College hope to bring a low-cost vaccine to the world early next year via a social enterprise — a company that seeks to do good as well as making a profit.

"Right now we think the focus should be on how to solve the problem rather than how to make money out of it," said Simon Hepworth, director of enterprise at Imperial.

"Social enterprise fits with our mission — applying scientific discoveries for the benefit of society," he said.

There is intense pressure to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus, which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of jobs globally, with about 100 candidates in development.

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Some fear people in wealthier countries, where many of the vaccines and treatments are being developed, will receive them ahead of those in poorer countries.

One of the forerunning vaccinations undergoing clinical trials by a team at Oxford University is already being manufactured by British drugmaker AstraZeneca, which has said it will distribute the vaccine at no profit during the pandemic.

Rather than partnering with one company, Imperial is looking to team up with multiple manufacturers, which could include major pharmaceutical companies.

The social enterprise, called VacEquity Global Health (VGH), is backed by Imperial College and Hong Kong-based Morningside Ventures, which invests in companies that use innovative science for public good.

Imperial College is waiving royalties and will charge a "modest" amount for the vaccination, which was developed with funding from the British government and philanthropic organisations, to cover its costs.

Human clinical trials for the vaccine begin next week, with the aim of distributing the vaccine next year, if it proves safe and effective.

(Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans. Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)