A coronavirus vaccine could be available for limited use by the end of the year, AstraZeneca's chief executive Pascal Soriot has said.
The pharmaceutical giant has agreed to manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford, if the treatment proves effective.
Mr Soriot said that "the need for a vaccine to defeat the virus is urgent".
The first human trial in Europe for a vaccine began in Oxford last week.
Mr Soriot said the University of Oxford team's track record is very strong, their technology is advanced, and AstraZeneca will know by June or July whether its confidence is well-placed.
The firm is partnering with the university's vaccine research team at the Jenner Institute, and data from testing could be available as early as mid-June.
The plan is to submit the vaccine for fast track regulatory approval in the fourth quarter of 2020, and for it to be ready for limited use by the end of this year.
Mr Soriot said: "Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can accelerate the globalisation of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation."
Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the agreement was important in order to "see whether we can get this vaccine both to work and be manufactured and distributed to both the UK and globally".
He added: "The challenge is that, once we get an approval by the regulators, we don't have to go back to the beginning and work out how we manufacture it at scale."
The partnership with AstraZeneca aims to build capacity to produce tens of millions of doses by the end of the year, if the treatment is effective.
"Our manufacturing capacity in the UK for vaccines isn't where it needs to be, and we're going to work together with AstraZeneca to improve that considerably," Prof Bell added.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said that the agreement was a "vital step" that could "advance" any manufacturing process.
"It will also ensure that, should the vaccine being developed by Oxford University's Jenner Institute work, it will be available as early as possible, helping to protect thousands of lives from this disease," he added.
AstraZeneca's share price rose by nearly 3% off the back of the announcement.
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