By Giselda Vagnoni
ROME, Feb 6 (Reuters) - The Group of Seven rich countries will sign an agreement on Friday to provide $1.5 billion to develop vaccines for poor countries, the government of Italy, which is among those heading the initiative, said on Tuesday.
The new Advanced Market Commitments for Vaccines programme, under the auspices of the G7, is "aimed at saving millions of lives in the poorest countries and supporting their economic growth with new methods", the Italian economy ministry said.
The mechanism involves donor nations making a prior commitment to buy vaccines which are under development at a preferential price once they are launched, thereby creating a demand-led market for new vaccines needed by poor countries.
Italy, Britain, Canada and Norway will announce funding commitments on Friday at a ceremony attended by Italian Economy Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Britain's Gordon Brown, Canada's Jim Flaherty and World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz.
Jordan's Queen Rania will preside over the launch and the G7 officials will explain the programme in person to Pope Benedict at the Vatican on Friday before travelling to Essen in Germany for the G7 meeting, said the Italian ministry in a statement.
The G7 groups the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada.
Italian government sources said separately that Rome would stump up $500 million of the funding while Britain was likely to give $400 million and Canada and Norway $200 million each.
The first target disease will be pneumococcus which causes pneumonia and meningitis and is a major killer of children under five in poor countries, said Italian officials. The ultimate aim of the project is to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.