'Cautious optimism' - J&J vaccine trials underway


STORY: The United States government will pay Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) over $1 billion for 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine, as it stocks up on vaccine and drugs in an attempt to tame the pandemic.

The latest contract is priced at roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J, or around $14.50 per dose, including a previous $456 million the U.S. government promised to J&J for vaccine development in March. That compares with the $19.50 per dose that the U.S. is paying for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and German biotech BioNTech SE (22UAy.F).

J&J is studying both one and two-dose regimens of its vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech's candidate would require two doses per person treated. The drugmaker said on Wednesday it would deliver the vaccine to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) on a not-for-profit basis to be used after approval or emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The announcement comes after Johnson & Johnson kicked off U.S. human safety trials for the vaccine after releasing details of a study in monkeys that showed its best-performing vaccine candidate offered strong protection in a single dose.

The vaccine makes use of the the common cold virus to get the COVID-19 spike protein into cells, as lead vaccine researcher, Dan Barouch, MD, told Reuters.

Barouch also said he's "cautiously optimistic" the vaccine will be successful enough in trials for it to be used in "emergency use... in early 2021."

The U.S. government may also purchase an additional 200 million doses under a subsequent agreement. J&J did not disclose that deal's value.

As the race for vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 intensifies, the U.S. government has been signing deals to buy them through its Operation Warp Speed program. Other drugmakers who have signed deals include Sanofi SA and Regeneron Inc.

This is J&J's first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country. Talks are underway with the European Union, but no deal has yet been reached.

J&J's investigational vaccine is currently being tested on healthy volunteers in the United States and Belgium in an early-stage study.

There are currently no approved vaccines for COVID-19. More than 20 are in clinical trials.

And to be able to meet the global demand, "we need multiple vaccines." Barouch, who's also the director for vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess, said.

Shares of J&J were up around 1 percent in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Production by: Dan Fastenberg and Michael Erman.)