Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J & J) is working on a coronavirus vaccine that they hope will be ready for emergency use by early next year. The company will immediately begin producing the vaccine, with plans to start human trials as soon as September.
J & J will partner with the Trump administration to invest $1 billion into quickly developing an experimental cure, with hopes of making one available for emergency use by early 2021, the Washington Times reported. The company’s CEO, Alex Gorsky, touted the company’s quest in an appearance on NBC’s Today on Monday.
“We have a candidate that has a high degree of probability of being successful against the COVID-19 virus. We’ve got the production capabilities to be able to ramp up production of this in a relatively short period of time so it can become available,” Gorsky said.
Trump admin partners with J & J
It’s just the latest effort to find a vaccine for the deadly virus that has now killed over 3,000 Americans — a steep toll in roughly a month — while leaving millions jobless.
A vaccine usually takes five to seven years to develop, The Hill noted. But J & J is partnering with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with hopes of producing up to a billion doses by the end of next year.
“Literally within the next few days and weeks, we’re going to start ramping up production of these vaccines as well, and we should be able to have several hundred million doses available by the middle of next year. Our goal is to have a billion prepared by the end of 2021,” Gorsky said.
The CEO said that the vaccine would be “not-for-profit” and that the company is already looking to fire up production sites around the world to get the ball rolling. Shares in J & J went up by 8% Monday following the news.
Public-private race for cure ramps up
Separately, BARDA is investing in a vaccine from the company Moderna, and the agency hopes to make at least two or three successful candidates available, Reuters reported.
President Trump has urged pharmaceutical companies to quickly develop a vaccine, the Washington Times notes, but his confidence in experimental treatments like the anti-malarial drug chloroquine has faced pushback from critics. Trump has also hailed private companies stepping up to supply masks, ventilators and other critical supplies as hospitals nationwide struggle with shortages.
The crisis presents health care companies with unique opportunities to improve their public branding, even if the profits from developing a vaccine, for example, might be insubstantial, sources told the Washington Times. Big Pharma, for example, has been battered in recent years by the fallout of the opioid crisis, and everyone from Donald Trump to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has bashed the industry over drug pricing.
There are currently dozens of vaccines in the works around the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While a horse race in the private sector to quickly develop a vaccine has some concerned about safety, J & J is confident that it can make one without risking public safety.
“We’re going to do everything possible to make sure that we have a safe, effective vaccine available in the kind of quantities that can really make a difference,” Gorsky told NBC.