The Gavi global alliance for vaccines and immunisation group has signed a US$5 million advance purchase commitment to buy a vaccine being developed by Merck to protect against future outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus.
Gavi said the agreement would help the US drugmaker take the experimental Ebola vaccine through late-stage clinical trials to licensing and then through pre-qualification by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
If approved, Merck's so-called VSV-ZEBOV live attenuated Ebola Zaire vaccine would become one of the world's first licensed Ebola shots and Gavi would be able to start buying it to create a stockpile for future outbreaks, it said in a statement issued at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
A vast epidemic of Ebola which swept through three countries in West Africa last year killed more than 11,300 people and infected more than 28,600.
"The suffering caused by the Ebola crisis was a wake-up call to many in the global health community," said Gavi's chief executive Seth Berkley on Wednesday (local time).
"New threats require smart solutions and our innovative financing agreement with Merck will ensure that we are ahead of the curve for future Ebola outbreaks."
The deal was agreed on the understanding that the vaccine will be submitted for a licence by the end of 2017.
Speaking to Reuters in Davos, Berkley said the advance commitment should give a positive signal to drugmakers developing products that may not have an immediate market
"It's critical that we give confidence to companies that when they make this type of effort, there is somebody to buy it," he said.
As part of the agreement, Merck will ensure that 300,000 doses of the vaccine are available from May 2016 to be used in expanded use clinical trials as well as for emergency use as needed while development work on the shot continues.
Until the West Africa Ebola epidemic, which swiftly became the largest in history, previous outbreaks of the disease have infected far smaller numbers, usually fewer than 1000 people.
Initial results from a clinical trial in Guinea of the vaccine, which tested it on about 4000 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed Ebola case, showed complete protection after 10 days.
Merck says it has already submitted an application through WHO's Emergency Use Assessment and Listing procedure which, if approved, would allow for the vaccine to be used if there is another Ebola emergency before it is licensed.