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J&J (JNJ) Plans to Develop Vaccine for New Coronavirus

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Johnson & Johnson JNJ announced its interest in developing a vaccine with multi-pronged approach to address the current novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. The company has initiated the process to identify compounds with antiviral activity against 2019-nCoV and develop a vaccine candidate.

The company will use Janssen’s technologies, which will help it to rapidly upscale production of the optimal vaccine candidate. These technologies have already been used to develop vaccine candidates for other virus-caused infections namely Ebola, HIV and for respiratory syncytial virus, a common respiratory virus. The company will also review previously tested medicines for coronavirus infections like SARS and MERS to determine their efficacy in preventing the 2019-nCoV infection.

Moreover, the company is also donating its HIV medication, Prezcobix, to several China-based entities engaged in developing a 2019-nCoV vaccine. Prezcobix includes a protease inhibitor (“PI”) as its component and PI has shown favorable clinical response against SARS.

Meanwhile, several other large and small pharma companies are working on developing a vaccine for fighting the coronavirus outbreak. A Bloomberg article stated that AbbVie’s ABBV HIV drug, Kaletra, has been recommended for treating 2019-nCoV infection by a Chinese authority. The drug has previous history of clinical response against SARS.

Moreover, Gilead GILD is planning to develop its failed Ebola vaccine as a 2019-nCoV vaccine, per a CNBC article. Smaller biotechs like Moderna MRNA and Inovio Pharmaceuticals have received grant from CEPI, a public-private nonprofit organization, to develop a similar vaccine.

The 2019-nCOV infection is spreading rapidly in China with latest data showing nearly 6,000 infections and almost 130 deaths. With several large-cap pharma companies showing interest and promising to provide support to fight the infection, development of vaccines may be accelerated.

However, we note that development of an effective vaccine may take some time as clinical studies are required to test its efficacy in humans. Meanwhile, stocks of some small biotechs, which had rallied last week on the coronavirus news, declined on Jan 29 following J&J’s interest. Entry of large-cap players with significant funds and strong expertise may impact the potential of small biotechs.

J&J’s stock has risen 13.1% in the past year compared with an increase of 12.1% recorded by the industry.

 

In a separate press release, J&J announced that the European Commission (“EC”) has granted marketing authorization to its new prostate cancer drug Erleada for an expanded patient population.

With the latest approval, Erleada will be available in Europe to treat patients with metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, also known as metastatic castration-sensitive prostate cancer, in combination with androgen deprivation therapy.Erleada is already approved in the EU for the treatment of men with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer

A similar label expansion for the drug was approved by the FDA in September 2019.

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Zacks Rank

J&J currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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