Global health products giant Johnson & Johnson have announced a collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an agency of the USA government, to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, with a goal of making one billion doses available on an emergency basis by early 2021. If successful, the $1 billion project will produce a vaccine that will prevent patients exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from contracting the disease.
The project, which is advancing to human tests, is the top vaccine candidate identified in a crash research programme that began in January using the firm’s proprietary vaccine development platform. This platform, known as AdVac, has previously been used to develop vaccines for HIV, RSV and the Ebola and Zika viruses, some of which have reached phase II and phase III clinical trials.
Developed through J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, the anti-viral platform works by synthesising proteins similar to those found on the target virus and attaching them to neutralized adenoviruses for delivery into host cells. These proteins then stimulate the host immune systems to develop antibodies against the protein that should attack and neutralise the virus should it appear. The vaccine also stimulates production of cytotoxic T-cells capable of detecting and destroying host cells infected with the virus protein.
The protein J&J is advancing proved most effective among several candidates at provoking an immune response in preclinical studies conducted over the past 10 weeks. The protein and two backup candidates mimic proteins found on the spikes protruding from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that it uses to attach to host cells.
J&J expects Phase I trials to begin by late summer, with safety and efficacy results anticipated by the end of the year. The firm is already building facilities to produce the vaccine. “We are moving on an accelerated timeline toward Phase I human clinical trials at the latest by September 2020 and, supported by the global production capability that we are scaling up in parallel to this testing, we expect a vaccine to be ready for emergency use in early 2021,” Paul Stoffels MD, J&J’s executive committee vice chairman and chief scientific officer, said in a statement. “We greatly value the US government’s confidence and support for our R&D efforts.”
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