By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson is in talks with private Indian drugmaker Biological E to possibly run local trials for its COVID-19 shot and manufacture it in India, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
A senior government official earlier told a news conference on Tuesday that J&J was interested in manufacturing its vaccine in India, which has recorded the highest number of COVID-19 infections after the United States.
The source, who asked not to be named as the talks were confidential, said a deal was not final but that Biological E had the capacity to expand its existing partnership with J&J.
A Biological E spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked about J&J's interest in India and if it was looking for a local partner, like other foreign vaccine makers have, a J&J spokesman pointed Reuters to a prior agreement https://www.biologicale.com/news.html it had announced with Biological E in August.
At the time, J&J unit Janssen Pharmaceutica struck a preliminary deal with Biological E to collaborate on vaccines.
Biological E, whose own vaccine candidate developed with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and U.S.-based Dynavax Technologies Corp, is undergoing clinical trials in India, with late-stage testing due to begin in April, has said it can produce more than 1 billion vaccine doses a year.
Last year, Biological E also bought a sterile injectable manufacturing facility in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh from Akorn Inc, a site that could produce 135 million units annually and expanded further.
India wants vaccine companies to make locally to sell on the domestic market as well as export.
"We are watching J&J vaccine developments globally and they also have interest in manufacturing in India," the country's top government vaccine official, Vinod Kumar Paul, told the news conference.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Alison Williams)