• Reuters, Bloomberg


The government is in talks with U.S. health care conglomerate Johnson & Johnson about securing allocations of its potential COVID-19 vaccine as the company prepares to kick off human trials, the firm’s Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk said in an interview.

More than a hundred vaccines are under development to try and stop the COVID-19 pandemic, and drugmakers including J&J are working to ramp up their supplies of their vaccines in the face of unprecedented demand.

J&J has already agreed to prioritize an allocation to the United States as part of its funding agreement with the U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Wolk said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with which the company is also in discussions, would focus on allocating any vaccine it acquired to developing countries, Wolk added. Reuters previously reported that J&J was also in talks with the European Union.

“Nothing has been finalized yet. We continue to have those discussions,” Wolk said. “People from the countries and the organizations we mentioned want to lock in a certain minimum level of capacity that they would get.”

Wolk said the “general construct” of the discussions was likely to take a form similar to AstraZeneca PLC’s deal with the U.S. government, which provided $1.2 billion in drug development aid to the U.K. drugmaker in exchange for locking in a delivery of around 300 million doses for fall 2020.

AstraZeneca has also signed a contract with France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands for up to 400 million doses of its potential vaccine. It has also partnered with non-profits to ensure distribution to developing countries.

Wolk added that the discussions would help Johnson & Johnson determine pricing for its vaccine, which the U.S. drugmaker intends to sell on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic.

“The more demand we have the better and lower that cost would potentially be,” Wolk said.

The company aims to begin manufacturing the vaccine later this year, depending on its success in clinical trials, he added.

In its Thursday earnings call, J&J said it planned to start its first human trials of its COVID-19 vaccine on July 22 in Belgium and in the U.S. a week later, and could kick off late-stage studies as soon as September.

J&J will conduct another phase one trial in Japan, and aims to hold phase two trials in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

The phase one trial seeks to enroll more than 1,000 healthy adults aged 18 and 55 and 65 and older, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said on the earnings call.

The trials will evaluate the experimental shot’s safety, whether it generates an immune response, and which dosing regimens work best.

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