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EXCLUSIVE-EU in early talks with Italy's ReiThera over potential vaccine supply deal -source

MILAN/BERLIN, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Italian biotech ReiThera is in early talks with the European Union about supplying the bloc with its potential COVID-19 vaccine, a source close to the company said, the latest attempt by Brussels to secure shots as the fight against the pandemic intensifies.

The discussions come as Brussels seeks to raise more money to shore up supplies of potential inoculations amid concerns demand next year might exceed supply.

The talks with ReiThera, which is developing a vaccine together with Germany’s Leukocare and Belgium’s Univercells, means the European Commission is now speaking with seven vaccine makers including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer and CureVac about possible supply deals.

On Friday, the European Commission reached an agreement with Sanofi and GSK to buy up to 300 million doses following one with AstraZeneca for up to 400 million doses.

The source said ReiThera was in preliminary talks with the EU, but said the outcome remained unclear.

“We are negotiating, but we do not yet have news of the outcome of the negotiations,” said the source, who declined to be identified due to the confidentiality of the discussions.

A spokesperson for the European Commision declined to comment on the status of its talks with drugmakers.

Leukocare said in a statement the consortium was currently negotiating with various governments and organisations and declined to give further details on the individual talks.

ReiThera declined to comment while Univercells did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ReiThera is developing a vaccine based on a so-called non-replicating adenoviral vector. This is the same technology being used in the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The single-dose vaccine, which uses a simian adenovirus that only appears in gorillas, is currently being tested on 90 volunteers in Italy in a phase I trial with results expected by the end of the year.

A phase 2/3 trial in countries with high rates of infection is planned to start in late 2020, depending on the outcome of the early-stage trial.

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Reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Josephine Mason and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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