J&J sets sights on November for COVID-19 vaccine trial

The company is using the same vaccine platform it used to develop its Ebola vaccine, which will allow it to “go very fast and with very good information,” Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels told CNBC. (Raysonho/CC0)

Johnson & Johnson expects to land on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate by the end of the month, en route to clinical trials in early November, Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer, told CNBC on Tuesday.

As it pushes toward preclinical work and then the clinic, J&J will set up processes for widespread production of the vaccine, “in order to have large quantities available early next year,” Stoffels told the broadcaster.

The company is using the same vaccine platform it used to develop its Ebola vaccine, which will allow it to “go very fast and with very good information,” Stoffels said.

Johnson & Johnson started work on a COVID-19 vaccine in late January, telling CNBC at the time it would take a “parallel approach” using at least five different virus constructs that would help it figure out “which part of the virus we can use to make an effective vaccine.”

RELATED: J&J allies with BARDA to accelerate coronavirus vaccine program

Stoffels told CNBC at the time that with new technologies to make antigens and virus constructs, it might be able to shave a month or two off the vaccine development timeline. With the Ebola outbreak, it took about half a year to go from a construct to bringing a vaccine to human trials, he said.

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In mid-February, the drugmaker teamed up with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to speed things up even more. J&J’s Janssen unit and BARDA will co-fund R&D for the vaccine and share their resources to bring it to phase 1 as quickly as possible. Once in the clinic, the deal has “options for additional funding,” and J&J may look for other partners to boost access to the vaccine.

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“We are also in discussions with other partners, that if we have a vaccine candidate with potential, we aim to make it accessible to China and other parts of the world,” Stoffels said in a statement at the time.

Come November, J&J will join Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer in the clinic. Moderna became the first biopharma to test an investigational drug for COVID-19 in humans this week and tandem BioNTech and Pfizer hope to kick off a clinical trial in April. Both are mRNA vaccines. Others still are testing existing medicines against COVID-19, including Gilead’s remdesivir, originally developed for Ebola, and AbbVie’s HIV antiviral, Kaletra. Sanofi and Regeneron are preparing to test rheumatoid arthritis med Kevzara, too.

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