AstraZeneca to ask Japan's JCR Pharmaceutical to produce COVID-19 vaccine - Nikkei

TOKYO (Reuters) - AstraZeneca Plc will license Japanese biotechnology company JCR Pharmaceutical, to produce some 90 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to help Japan avoid shortages and delays, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

The government in December agreed to buy 120 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University with deliveries to begin in May, the Nikkei said.

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Officials at JCR Pharmaceuticals and AstraZeneca's Japan unit were not immediately available for comment outside business hours on Wednesday.

The company produces human growth hormones and a treatment for renal anaemia, among other drugs.

By having the vaccine produced at home, Japan may be looking to avoid potential delays in deliveries. Rollouts of the vaccine have slowed in the European Union after AstraZeneca cut supplies, prompting anger among EU officials.

Japan is likely to begin inoculating its population from the end of February when it is expected to approve Pfizer Inc's vaccine.

It has ordered 75 million doses of that vaccine.

Japan will first vaccinate frontline medical staff and will likely begin inoculating it elderly citizens from April, the minister in charge of the mass vaccination program, Taro Kono, told reporters on Wednesday.

The last major industrialised nation to start giving shots, Japan faces major logistical hurdles that some experts say will make it difficult for it to vaccinate a large portion of its population ahead of the planned start Summer Olympics in Tokyo from July.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly, editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely)

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