Breakthrough: Johnson & Johnson’s proposed Covid vaccine may soon be produced in PE

As many as 300 million doses of a proposed new Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine could be produced in a Port Elizabeth factory, from as early as in the second quarter of next year.

The US company announced a preliminary partnership with local drugmaker Aspen on Monday.

From the 170 Covid-19 vaccines being tested around the world, Johnson & Johnson’s proposed candidate is seen as one of the ten frontrunners. It is currently in its last phase before approval – so-called phase three, when it is tested on humans.

The vaccine candidate – known as JNJ-78436735 – is delivered by a harmless virus called Adenovirus 26, a human virus uncommon in nature so most people have not developed immunity to it, reports USA Today.

Using the same adenovirus, Johnson & Johnson recently developed a Ebola vaccine candidate – which was approved by the European Union in July.

Its proposed Covid vaccine is currently in a late-stage testing among 60,000 people – including in South Africa. It is also being trialled in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and the US. It recently resumed its trials in the US after one participant fell seriously ill in September.

Last week, the company said that the first batches of the vaccine could be available for emergency use as soon as January. The EU has already concluded a deal with Johnson & Johnson for 400 million doses of the vaccine.

If the vaccine is approved, and an agreement between the two companies is concluded, Aspen could start manufacturing the vaccine in the second quarter of 2021, Aspen’s deputy CEO, Gus Attridge told Business Insider. 

The local company will manage the formulation, filling and secondary packaging of the vaccine and supply it to Johnson & Johnson.

Aspen will produce the vaccine at its Port Elizabeth plant which has the capacity to deliver in excess of 300 million doses a year.

For its part, Johnson & Johnson told Business Insider SA that it wants to allocate up to 500 million vaccine doses to lower income countries, with delivery beginning mid next year.

“We are committed to bringing an affordable vaccine to the public on a not-for-profit basis for emergency pandemic use,” William Foster, Global Communication and Public Affairs officer said.

“From our perspective, we’ve invested a lot of money in Port Elizabeth in building world class manufacturing facilities for sterile manufacturing which is differentiated. (This) allows us to be able to play a role. Hopefully the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be successful and one of those which is in demand around the world,” Attridge said. Aspen has invested some R3 billion in the Port Elizabeth plant.

Oxford and AstraZeneca are also testing their proposed Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa, and  had to halt its phase 3 trial recently as well, after a patient fell ill. It has since resumed the trial, and is expected to release its clinical trial data within weeks.

Other vaccine contenders are from pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax.

Business Insider SA

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