J&J Plans to Initiate Coronavirus Vaccine Study in September

Zacks Equity Research

Johnson & Johnson JNJ announced that it has selected a lead vaccine candidate for coronavirus infection, COVID-19. The company initiated the process to identify compounds with antiviral activity against 2019-nCoV in January.

The company expects to initiate a phase I study on the candidate in September 2020 under an accelerated timeline. Safety and efficacy data from the study is likely to be available by the end of the year, based on which, the company expects a vaccine to be available for emergency use in early 2021. Meanwhile, the company has also identified two back-up candidates apart from the lead COVID-19 candidate. The company has selected the lead candidate in collaboration with researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and other academic institutions that have done pre-clinical testing for candidates with most promising immune response.

J&J is using its subsidiary, Janssen’s technologies, which will help it to rapidly upscale production of the vaccine candidate. These technologies are already in use for development of vaccine candidates for other virus-caused infections namely Ebola, HIV and for respiratory syncytial virus, a common respiratory virus. The company is also rapidly upscaling its manufacturing facilities with the goal of supplying more than a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine across the globe.

Last month, J&J expanded its agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (“BARDA”), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services related to development of antiviral vaccines to accelerate its COVID-19 vaccine program. The company further expanded the agreement under which both parties agreed to commit more than $1 billion of investment to co-fund vaccine research, development, and clinical testing.

Meanwhile, J&J and BARDA have also assigned additional funding to expand their ongoing work to identify potential antiviral treatments against COVID-19.

J&J’s stock has declined 8.8% so far this year compared with a decrease of 11% recorded by the industry.

Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for COVID-19. However, as the infection spreads rapidly, several pharma bigwigs as well as smaller biotechs are actively pursuing development of a vaccine or therapy for the deadly disease. New companies are joining the bandwagon regularly to bring a safe treatment option for COVID-19. Last week, Sanofi SNY and Translate Bio TBIO announced a collaboration to jointly develop a novel messenger RNA vaccine for COVID-19. Other new entrants last week include Roche RHHBY, Dynavax Technologies, Hoth Therapeutics and Voltron Therapeutics among a few others.

The deadly infectious disease has infected almost 800,000 people globally so far, with numbers rising in the United States rapidly. Italy is the most affected country so far with more than 100,000 infections and over 11,500 deaths. The disease is also taking its toll on businesses and economies as countries are kept under partial or full lockdown to avoid its spread.

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J&J currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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