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Janssen, BARDA Partner on Coronavirus Vaccine


(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

12 Feb. 2020. An industry-government collaboration aims to advance and produce vaccines against the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak in China and elsewhere. The partnership brings together Janssen Research and Development, a division of drug maker Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Coronaviruses are a family of pathogens that range from the common cold, to more deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) viruses, and are zoonotic, meaning they’re transmitted from animals to humans. World Health Organization says it became aware of several pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, China on 31 December 2019. But by 7 January 2020, authorities in China confirmed this was a new and previously unknown respiratory virus, with WHO calling it the novel coronavirus. By the end of January, WHO designated the novel coronavirus, now code-named COVID-19, as an international public health emergency, with more than 45,200 confirmed cases and 1,117 deaths, primarily in mainland China, as of 12 February.

Janssen and BARDA are expected to share R&D costs and expertise to advance the company’s coronavirus candidate through preclinical testing and into clinical trials. “With emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19,”says BARDA director Rick Bright in an agency statement, “speed is crucial to saving lives and reducing further spread of the virus. ”

In a company essay posted on 28 January, Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientist, says the company expects to apply its experience with the Ebola, Zika, and HIV pandemics to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Stoffels says the company began work on a coronavirus vaccine in mid-January, based on known sequences, and “are optimistic that we can start testing later this year.”

Janssen is also expected to scale-up its production and manufacturing facilities to produce the vaccine candidate. The company used the same approach to produce quantities of its Ebola vaccine at BARDA’s request to respond to the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda that began in 2018.

Janssen and BARDA are expected to share R&D costs in the COVID-19 vaccine collaboration, although financial details were not disclosed. BARDA is funding its part of the partnership under the agency’s Other Transaction Authority, used for cost-sharing research activities, particularly under exceptional circumstances.

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Disclosure: the author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson.

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