US nears deal to fund Moderna's bird flu vaccine trial, FT reports

FILE PHOTO: Test tubes are seen in front of a displayed Moderna logo in this illustration

(Reuters) -The U.S. government is nearing an agreement to fund a late-stage trial of Moderna's mRNA bird flu vaccine, the Financial Times reported on Thursday, as the outbreak spreads in dairy cows.

Moderna told Reuters it was in discussions with the government on advancing its vaccine candidate, but did not confirm the funding, saying it has nothing further to add.

Federal funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) could come as soon as next month and would include a promise to procure doses if late-stage trials are successful, the FT report said, citing people close to the discussions.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not immediately respond to a Reuters' request for comment.

Moderna is testing the experimental shot, mRNA-1018, against several strains of the virus - including the currently circulating H5N1 variant. It said dosing in an early-to-mid stage study of the vaccine was completed, and it expects data soon.

Shares of the company have risen about 40% since April 1, when the second known human case of bird flu in the United States was reported. The stock was up about 3% at $151.25 in premarket trading on Thursday.

The United States has a stockpile of bird flu vaccines matched with the strain currently circulating, as well as antivirals that could be used to treat human infections. For a major epidemic or a pandemic, however, the country would have to considerably scale up stock.

The U.S. government is manufacturing about 4.8 million doses of CSL Seqirus' bird flu vaccine. It is also in "active conversations" with Pfizer and Moderna on a potential mRNA vaccine.

Last week, U.S. officials confirmed another human infection in the country since the virus was first detected in dairy cattle in late March.

(Reporting by Kanjyik Ghosh, Bhanvi Satija and Gnaneshwar Rajan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza, Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Shinjini Ganguli)