Johnson & Johnson said it has identified a lead candidate for a COVID-19 vaccine and that it could be ready for emergency use early next year.
The company said in a statement on March 30 that it had picked the most promising investigational vaccine from constructs it has been working on since January, adding that human clinical trials could begin as early as September.
“The world is facing an urgent public health crisis and we are committed to doing our part to make a COVID-19 vaccine available and affordable globally as quickly as possible,” said Alex Gorsky, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson.
Gorsky said the company is “well-positioned” to ramp up vaccine development efforts and “to accelerate the fight against this pandemic.”
The company stated it had scaled up its vaccine manufacturing capacity and that it “anticipates the first batches of a COVID-19 vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization in early 2021, a substantially accelerated time frame compared to the typical vaccine development process.”
The release also stated that Johnson & Johnson had reached a $1 billion deal with the U.S. government to create enough manufacturing capacity for more than a billion doses of the experimental vaccine.
“Through a landmark new partnership, BARDA, which is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Johnson & Johnson together have committed more than $1 billion of investment to co-fund vaccine research, development, and clinical testing,” the company stated.
Johnson & Johnson is one of a number of companies at work on a vaccine for the disease.
A patient was dosed with Moderna Inc’s vaccine in an early-stage trial earlier this month, making it the front-runner in the race to develop a viable vaccine. The trial is supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
“Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 is an urgent public health priority,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal.”
Moderna’s investigational vaccine is called mRNA-1273. It was developed using a genetic platform called mRNA (messenger RNA). The vaccine directs the body’s cells to express a virus protein that researchers hope will elicit “a robust immune response.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) believes that one of the eight projects it’s backing can create a vaccine “within the next 12 to 18 months.”
“We face one of the greatest challenges humankind kind has faced in the last century: a disease that has spread globally, that is most dangerous to the most vulnerable members of our society, and that threatens our economic order and very way of life,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI.
The CCP virus that causes COVID-19 began in Wuhan, China, and has infected people in most countries around the world.
For most people, COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, which clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with preexisting health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, typically between people who are in close contact with one another and via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.