J&J to expand vaccine capacity as part of $1bn BARDA coronavirus collaboration

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) says it will leverage and expand facilities in The Netherlands and Pennsylvania in efforts to reach one billion doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

In February, J&J teamed up with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). At the time the company said it would work to upscale production and manufacturing capacities, leveraging its AdVac and PER.C6 technologies.

Nearly two months on and details have emerged of the deal showing the government agency and Big Pharma firm have selected a lead vaccine candidate and committed $1 billion (€900,000 million) to its development.

Image: iStock/David Bautista

“The J&J BARDA collaboration covers research and development and clinical testing which will be co-funded,” J&J spokesperson Seema Kumar told this publication.

In addition, and in parallel, J&J is investing in expanding its manufacturing capacity to support the candidate, with an aim to provide global supply of the vaccine in the battle against COVID-19.

The firm has a facility in Leiden, The Netherlands. The Dutch plant – equipped with single-use bioreactors to a scale of 1,000 L – was built in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but it is used to make other vaccine candidates, including a preventative HIV candidate.

But for the COVID-19 program, the firm is “leveraging some parts of our existing facilities in Pennsylvania and expanding capacity nearby,” Kumar confirmed.

“Our goal is to be able to manufacture one billion doses, with the first batches being available in early 2021.”

The firm says it is planning to begin production at risk imminently and is committed to bringing an affordable vaccine to the public on a not-for-profit basis.

“The world is facing an urgent public health crisis and we are committed to doing our part to make a COVID-19 vaccine available and affordable globally as quickly as possible,” J&J CEO Alex Gorsky said in a statement.

J&J is not the only firm to have teamed with BARDA to expedite COVID-19 efforts. Sanofi Pasteur is working with the agency to develop a vaccine against the virus using its recombinant DNA tech. Meanwhile, BARDA is supporting efforts by Grifols to develop plasma-derived COVID-19 therapeutics.

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