By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – The CEPI global epidemic response coalition said on Tuesday it will put a further $4.4 million into deals with the biotech firm Novavax and Britain’s University of Oxford to rapidly develop potential vaccines against COVID-19.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which was set up to fight emerging epidemics, said the extra funding brought its total investment in development of new vaccines against the new coronavirus to $23.7 million.

As of Tuesday, there were more than 114,300 cases of COVID-19 infection with the new coronavirus worldwide and at least 4,026 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

CEPI’s chief executive, Richard Hatchett, said the group was working at speed to develop a vaccine, which he said would be “crucial in the world’s efforts to tackle this virus”.

CEPI has so far invested in the development of six vaccine candidates against COVID-19, including projects with the U.S. firms CureVac, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Moderna, and with the University of Queensland in Australia.

The new funds will go toward initial funding for Novavax to pave the way for phase 1 safety trials, while Oxford University will use the funds to support the manufacture of vaccine materials required for animal testing and early-stage human safety trials, it said.

CEPI has said it will put a total of up to $100 million into a range of research projects with the aim of having potential vaccine candidates in early stage clinical trials within a few months. It has now invested $23.7 million of that.

“There are no guarantees of success, but we are working as fast and as hard as we can with the hope of delivering safe and effective vaccines that may be available for broader use potentially within the next 12 to 18 months,” Hatchett said.

CEPI was created in 2017 with initial funding of $460 million from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust global health charity. Its aim was to speed up the process of developing vaccines against new and unknown diseases.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Alison Williams)