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J&J picks top coronavirus vaccine candidate; human tests to start in September

Johnson & Johnson has selected a lead vaccine candidate for the novel coronavirus and expects to start testing it in humans by September at the latest. That means J&J could disclose data before the end of the year, which then may allow the vaccine to be available for emergency use in early 2021, according to the pharma giant.

J&J was the earliest big pharma to announce plans for developing a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, which causes the sometimes deadly respiratory illness COVID-19. J&J says it collaborated with academic institutions to produce what's now J&J's lead vaccine, as well as two back-up candidates.

Like other companies working on novel coronavirus vaccines, J&J is trying to speed up development. Vaccines typically take years to make and validate via testing, but the threats posed by a global pandemic are pushing drugmakers to move quicker.

BARDA is helping finance J&J's vaccine work through an expanded agreement in which the agency funds development through Phase 1. After that early testing, BARDA can decide whether to invest more.

Along with vaccine work, J&J and BARDA have been screening libraries of chemical compounds in search of antivirals that could be used to treat this new virus. The libraries include J&J's own, as well as those of other pharmaceutical companies. Notably, J&J has an infectious disease business that brings in more than $3 billion a year, most of which comes from five marketed antivirals used to treat HIV.

Antivirals, such as Gilead's remdesivir, have garnered much attention as possible treatments for COVID-19. Yet there are other drug types under investigation too — Regeneron, Eli Lilly and Biogen, for example, are each investigating experimental antibodies.

By Jacob Bell

Published March 30, 2020

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