J&J gives the Ebola vaccine push a $200M boost

Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels

With several players now in the race toward a vaccine for Ebola, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) says it is ramping up development efforts for its own program, devoting $200 million to the cause.

In September, the FDA put J&J's investigational Ebola vaccine on a fast track to clinical trials, which are expected to kick off in the U.S., Europe and Africa in January. Now, with the fresh investment, the company is kicking its R&D into overdrive to help it achieve an ambitious goal--producing one million doses of Ebola vaccine in 2015, with 250,000 of those to be released in clinical trials by May.

"Our goal to produce more than a million vaccines in the next few months is within reach," Dr. Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson's chief scientific officer, said in a company statement.

The $200 million, which includes equity investment in partner Bavarian Nordic, is a drop in the bucket compared to J&J's total R&D budget--which topped $8 billion in 2013. But it's an infusion the company believes will help get the vaccine into the hands of West African healthcare workers and other communities that desperately need it.

J&J is betting on technology from Janssen's Crucell arm, dubbed AdVac, which uses harmless adenoviruses as vectors to carry new genetic material encoding for a range of pathogens. For a combination approach, Janssen is adding a vaccine platform from Denmark's Bavarian Nordic called MVA-BN, which uses re-engineered viruses as vectors to express foreign genes. Together, the two work as a prime-boost vaccine, using one vector to prime and another to boost immune response.

Johnson & Johnson is also investigating previously tested drugs that may be able to help patients survive an Ebola infection.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is in the midst of a Phase I trial for its cAd3-ZEBOV vaccine, which is being developed in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Vaccine Research Center. And NewLink Genetics ($NLNK) just kicked off a safety trial for rVSV-ZEBOV, originally developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Profectus BioSciences has just joined the fight, nabbing $5.8 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and another $17.1 million from the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense to propel its experimental vaccine through animal tests and hopefully, human studies.

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