MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico aims to conduct late-stage clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in development by U.S. and Chinese companies, two of which might base some of their vaccine production in the country, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Mexico has signed memorandums of understanding with Johnson & Johnson, along with Chinese companies CanSino Biologics Inc and Walvax Biotechnology Co Ltd, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference.
Ebrard said trials would start between September and January, depending on approval from Mexico's food and drug agency.
He said the goal was to secure access to the drugs for Mexico, highlighting growing anxiety and "vaccine diplomacy" around the world as developing countries jostle to get timely access to treatments and vaccines.
"This is what worries President (Andres Manuel) Lopez Obrador, that we have it on time," Ebrard said.
The foreign ministry said CanSino and Walvax were interested in producing an eventual vaccine in Mexico for delivery to the Latin American market.
More than 150 vaccines are being developed and tested around the world to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, with 25 in human clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization.
Russia is the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, which it named "Sputnik V" for foreign markets, an official said on Tuesday.
Mexico's coronavirus czar, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, told a news conference he was surprised by the Russian news, and that the government would wait for more information before making any decisions on the vaccine.
Mexico has already lobbied in world forums, including at the G20 group of nations and the United Nations, to secure equitable access for an eventual vaccine.
Several other emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East have followed a similar strategy, consultancy Oxford Business Group highlighted in a report on Tuesday.
Large-scale, phase-three human testing for the J&J unit Janssen Pharmaceuticals' candidate could start in the second half of September, the company has previously said.
J&J could produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine next year if it proves successful and would consider injecting healthy volunteers with the novel coronavirus if there are not enough patients for final trials, a company executive told Reuters on Tuesday.
J&J is likely to conduct those trials in the United States and Latin America, the regions of the world with the highest number of cases currently.
The company started early U.S. human safety trials in July after releasing details of a study in monkeys that showed its best-performing vaccine candidate offered strong protection in a single dose.
Walvax's experimental vaccine is currently under early testing at a Chinese military research institute.
CanSino Biologics' vaccine candidate is already in clinical trials. The company is also collaborating with Canada's National Research Council to "pave the way" for future trials in Canada, the research council said in May.
Latin America's second-largest economy has suffered nearly 54,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to official data, the third-highest toll in the world.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Alistair Bell, Stephen Coates and Sonya Hepinstall)