UPDATE 2-Butantan seeks trials of Brazilian COVID-19 vaccine

(Updates with new variant protection)

SAO PAULO, March 26 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Butantan biomedical institute will seek approval on Friday to begin human trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine, officials said, making it the first shot developed in the country to reach clinical testing.

Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said the goal was to begin inoculations with the vaccine in July, an aggressive timeline even by the standards of the recent race for new COVID-19 shots.

Butantan aims to produce 40 million doses of the new vaccine this year, called Butanvac, starting in May, officials said, aiming to help a sputtering national immunization program, which has done little to stop Brazil’s raging coronavirus outbreak.

Doria told a news conference that Butanvac production will not interfere with the the state-funded institute’s partnership to produce and distibute a COVID-19 shot developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

Butantan officials said the new vaccine had been designed to protect against the contagious P1 variant of the coronavirus, which emerged in the Amazon region last year and is fueling to a deadly second wave of cases overwhelming the country’s hospitals.

Butantan plans to test the vaccine on 1,800 volunteers over two phases, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters ahead of the official announcement. The Butanvac milestone was first reported by Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.

Vietnam and Thailand are also part of the consortium developing the vaccine, Folha reported.

Butantan has already delivered 27.8 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, called CoronaVac, to the Brazilian government, which is the current centerpiece of the national immunization plan. (Reporting by Eduardo Simoes Additional reporting by Carolina Mandl Editing by Brad Haynes and Louise Heavens)