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UPDATE 1-Italy to invest in biotech ReiThera to support COVID-19 vaccine development

(Adds trials data, comments and background)

ROME, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Italy will invest in local biotech company ReiThera to support the development of its COVID-19 vaccine, a senior official said on Tuesday after the government called results of a Phase 1 trial encouraging.

ReiThera is developing the vaccine with Germany’s Leukocare and Belgium’s Univercells and started talks with the European Union in September about supplying the bloc with doses.

An initial trial involved 45 volunteers aged between 18 and 55. None of them showed serious side effects in the 28 days after the vaccination, said Giuseppe Ippolito, scientific director of Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani institute which conducted the tests.

“Some 92.5% of volunteers had detectable levels of neutralizing antibodies,” he said, adding that trials were scheduled to conclude by the summer.

Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s COVID-19 emergency commissioner, said the government would invest in ReiThera to support the research and eventually provide Italy with some independence in vaccine procurement.

His office did not say how much money would be invested. “If the data obtained so far are confirmed, in the coming months we will have an effective and safe vaccine with a single dose,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement.

The ReiThera vaccine is based on a so-called non-replicating adenoviral vector, the same technology that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have used in their vaccines.

ReiThera’s Chairman Antonella Folgori said the company aimed to produce some 100 million doses per year, which can be stored at between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius.

Italy is relying entirely on a European Union joint procurement initiative for COVID-19 vaccines, which is so far just using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech as the bloc awaits for other vaccines to be approved by the European Medicines Agency. (Reporting by Angelo Amante, additional reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Susan Fenton)

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