Two US healthcare companies have given hope in the fight against the coronavirus, Johnson & Johnson announcing a potential vaccine that may be available early next year and Abbott Laboratories launching a rapid test kit.
Johnson & Johnson said Monday it has identified a vaccine candidate and is partnering with the U.S. government to invest $ 1 billion in its development, expecting to begin human testing by September .
Abbott said he would run a test for the virus which could take as little as five minutes and could run on a portable machine the size of a toaster.
The two announcements – which drastically boosted the actions of the two companies – are the latest in a massive mobilization of global health groups and governments to fight a virus that has killed more than 35,000 people and locked whole countries -out.
J&J was the first large pharmaceutical company to enter the vaccine race in January. Since then, companies such as Sanofi, GSK and Pfizer have started to compete – although none of them has yet tested their potential vaccines in humans.
If the first trials go well, the company said the vaccine could be available by 2021 for use under an emergency use authorization, an accelerated waiver from the U.S. regulator. J&J shares rose 7.9%.
But while J&J landed on a candidate vaccine much faster than usual, it is still behind Moderna, a Boston-based biotechnology company. The Moderna candidate was ready over a month ago and entered human testing in March, six months earlier than J&J had planned for his potential vaccine.
Moderna has broken records by offering a potential vaccine in just 42 days, using its platform which can be quickly adapted to the genetic sequence of viruses.
Alex Gorsky, president and CEO of J&J, said the potential vaccine was based on more than a decade of research and billions of dollars of investment.
Although J&J is slower than Moderna getting into human testing, Gorsky stressed the ability of his company, the world’s largest healthcare group, to expand manufacturing to ensure that everyone world would have access to a vaccine.
“We are not racing against Moderna or any other company. We are in a race against the coronavirus, “he told the Financial Times.
“We want to make it accessible and affordable for everyone who will need it,” he said. “It’s going to be important for the world to have access to it, and frankly, we think it’s our responsibility to make it available.”
In addition to expanding its partnership with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, known as Barda, in the area of research and development, J&J is investing to rapidly expand its manufacturing capabilities, preparing to produce a billion doses by the end of 2021.
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US politicians fear that pharmaceutical companies will take advantage of the crisis while making vaccines and drugs unaffordable for many. But J&J promised Monday that the vaccine would be sold on a non-profit basis during the pandemic.
Abbott’s announcement came as countries struggled to acquire tests fast enough and accurate enough to diagnose more of their populations. With more widespread testing, it is hoped that draconian containment measures can be relaxed.
Abbott’s new diagnostic test for Covid-19 could reduce waiting for results to as little as five minutes for a positive result and 13 minutes for a negative result.
The test runs on the company’s portable platform, which is the most widely available point-of-care molecular testing device in the United States. Abbott said the test would begin to be distributed to healthcare providers, such as doctors’ offices, emergency care clinics and emergency departments, this week. Abbott’s shares rose 7.2%.
Robert B Ford, president of Abbott, said the device would help clinicians test “outside the traditional walls of a hospital in sensitive areas”.