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Johnson & Johnson is five months away from starting human trials on a COVID-19 vaccine, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday. Clinical data would be available by the end of the year, leaving open the possibility of emergency-use authorization by early next year.
“We have very good early indicators that not only can we depend on this to be a safe vaccine base but also one that will ultimately be effective, based on all the early testing and modeling we’ve been doing,” the company’s chairman and CEO, Alex Gorsky, said on CNBC Monday.
The firm began working on a vaccine in January, Gorsky said, and has partnered with the federal government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to speed the vaccine though testing and approval. “This is a bit of a moon shot for J&J going forward, but it’s one we feel is very, very important for us to be doing at this period in time,” he said.
Gorsky said the plan is to distribute the vaccine on a “not-for-profit basis here in the United States.” The research, development, and testing of the vaccine is being co-funded by a $1 billion investment from Johnson & Johnson and BARDA, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services.
New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson is one of a handful of companies in the COVID-19 vaccine arms race. The Massachusetts biotech company Moderna Inc. began human trials of its experimental vaccine this month in Seattle. Though the vaccine won’t be commercially available for at least another year, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel reportedly claimed that “under emergency use, a vaccine could be available to some people, possibly including health-care professionals,” this year. Dozens of other companies and academic institutions are racing to develop a vaccine.
Late last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Americans to remain realistic about how quickly a vaccine can help. “Certainly, for sure, a vaccine is not going to help us now, next month, the month after,” he said Thursday. Rather, if a vaccine can be developed, tested and approved expeditiously, “we hope to rush it to have some impact on recycling next season. That could be a year to a year and a half.”