Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) plans to have 250,000 doses of experimental Ebola vaccine ready for clinical trials in May, potentially putting it ahead of GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) in the race to combat the virus that has killed thousands in West Africa.
The vaccine combines a shot from J&J’s Janssen unit in the Netherlands with one developed by Danish biotechnology company Bavarian Nordic A/S (BAVA), the U.S.-based company said in a statement today. The course will be tested in healthy volunteers in January, and the companies aim to produce 1 million doses in 2015, Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, told reporters on a call today.
The development could give J&J a lead over London-based Glaxo, which may not have as many doses available for use in the three West African countries ravaged by Ebola, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. While Glaxo has already started safety trials, it will need six months to work out how to produce hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses for wider use, the company said last month.
“We’re urgently working to
provide our vaccine expertise, production capabilities, our people and
resources to address the Ebola crisis,” said Alex Gorsky, J&J’s chairman and chief executive officer.
J&J is committing as much as $200 million to accelerate and expand production of the vaccine, the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company said. It’s also licensing Bavarian’s vaccine and buying new shares in the company in a potential investment of more than $187 million, the Kvistgaard, Denmark-based company said today.
“The request from the global community is unlimited,” Stoffels said. “I got approval from the board to invest $200 million and say, ‘go at risk and do whatever you need to do to help the epidemic.’”
J&J is also looking for other partners to further increase production capacity. Stoffels spoke with Glaxo Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty several times over the last few days about various issues, including the possibility of combining their vaccines, he said. It’s also likely that once a candidate is shown to work better than others, resources will be pooled to focus on one vaccine, he said.
Glaxo may dispense its vaccine to health-care workers in West Africa by the end of the year, Witty said on an earnings conference call. That moves up a previous target of providing the shot as early as January.
Bavarian Nordic jumped as much as 24 percent and traded 22 percent higher at 183 kroner as of 2:30 p.m. in Copenhagen, giving the company a market value of 4.8 billion kroner ($817 million).
While J&J’s treatment requires two shots instead of one, creating potential logistical challenges, the company said the injections may provide long-term protection. The combination of the two vaccines offered a complete shield against Ebola in preclinical studies.
Vaccines work by stimulating the body to generate antibodies with the ability to remember the virus. That allows them to recognize Ebola once an infection takes place, and mount a rapid counter attack.
The priority remains to isolate patients in the affected region and treat them to bring the epidemic under control, Stoffels said.
Still, “it’s unlikely that that will happen within the next 12 months, in view of the size of the epidemic,” he said.
Bavarian Nordic’s top product candidates are an immunotherapy treatment for advanced prostate cancer and a smallpox vaccine, the company said.