- Johnson & Johnson will get help from the U.S. government to quickly advance a coronavirus vaccine candidate into clinical testing, announcing Tuesday an expanded agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA.
- J&J is the only large pharmaceutical company to date to announce plans for developing a vaccine against the new coronavirus from China, which the World Health Organization said Tuesday would be named COVID-19.
- Per the agreement, BARDA will fund development through to Phase 1 testing, at which point the agency can decide whether to invest more. Notably, J&J said it would work to "upscale" its production and manufacturing capacity for any vaccine that might result from its research efforts.
More than a dozen drugmakers have announced plans to develop a vaccine against the virus that's spread from Wuhan, China, to 24 other countries and infected more than 43,000 people.
Missing from the group are the world's largest vaccine makers: Pfizer, Merck & Co., GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi. (Although GSK has made available some of its technology to others working with the Coalition for Epidemic and Preparedness Innovations.)
J&J is the lone large pharma to have publicly begun work on a prophylactic treatment for the virus, which shares similarities with SARS and MERS. Its scale and manufacturing capacity would be vitally important if any of the five different constructs it's exploring against COVID-19 show signs of promise.
In a statement, the drugmaker noted its experience in developing and manufacturing an experimental Ebola vaccine, which it has shipped to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. J&J has built up a stockpile of 1.5 million doses of that vaccine, according the company's website.
BARDA is also working with Regeneron on developing antibody-based treatments for the virus.
The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, has partnered with the biotech Moderna on an mRNA vaccine, the first batch of which is undergoing analytical testing prior to being sent to the NIH for use in a Phase 1 study. Moderna, however, likely lacks the size and funds to manufacture any resulting vaccine.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday expressed his frustration that no major drugmaker has so far agreed to manufacture the vaccine, according to a report in STAT.
While Phase 1 testing could begin in the next month or two, proving Moderna's vaccine is effective will likely take a year or more, and there's no guarantee it will work. Testing of existing antiviral drugs like Gilead's remdesivir could move faster, but the public health response to the virus' spread will rely heavily on containment and tracing.