BERLIN, Sept 15 (Reuters) – German biotech firm BioNTech said on Tuesday it had secured almost $450 million in government funding to speed up work on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate and expand its production capacity in Germany.

BioNTech and partners Pfizer Inc and China’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd are among the leading developers of experimental COVID-19 vaccines, based on molecules carrying a genetic code called messenger RNA (mRNA).

Mainz-based BioNTech, founded in 2008 and listed on the Nasdaq exchange last year, said it had been awarded 375 million euros ($445 million) in funding, after applying under a scheme announced in July by Research Minister Anja Karliczek.

It will use the money, which is subject to it reaching certain clinical milestones, to finance part of its COVID-19 vaccine development programme, which it calls BNT162.

“The funding is an important contribution to accelerate the development and expansion of our production capacity for a COVID 19 vaccine in Germany,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech.

The company said it was one of three vaccine programmes to be awarded funding from a government pot of 750 million euros that aims to expand production capacity in Germany and increase the number of people involved in late-stage testing.

Fellow German biotech firm CureVac said earlier this month it had been awarded 252 million euros in government to support its vaccine candidate..

BioNTech and Pfizer are already testing their most promising vaccine candidate in late-stage trials and have started recruiting patients in the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Europe.

($1 = 0.8415 euros) (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Mark Potter)

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