Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson JNJ, announced that it has entered into a collaboration with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center ("BIDMC"), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, to support development of a vaccine candidate for coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19.
Both entities have initiated pre-clinical testing of prospective vaccine candidates. They aim to identify a potential candidate for clinical study by the end of March.
J&J’s stock has declined 8% so far this year compared with a decrease of 11% recorded by the industry. Global stock markets have seen major sell-off in the last three weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
J&J had announced its intention to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in late January. The company stated that it will have a multi-pronged approach to address the outbreak, which is spreading like wildfire globally, led by a few European countries. It has already expanded its collaboration agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (“BARDA”), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) last month to accelerate its investigational vaccine program.
J&J will leverage Janssen's AdVac and PER.C6 technologies for development of a coronavirus vaccine. These technologies have previously supported the development of Ebola, Zika, RSV and HIV vaccine candidates by J&J. The company is also working with its global partners to search its library of antiviral molecules for rapid discovery of a potential candidate. It expects to initiate an early-stage clinical study to evaluate a potential vaccine candidate by the end of 2020.
Other COVID-19 Programs
Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for COVID-19. However, as the infection spreads rapidly, several pharma bigwigs as well as smaller biotechs are actively pursuing development of a vaccine or therapy for the deadly disease. Gilead Sciences GILD, a pioneer in antiviral therapies, seems to be leading the race with two late-stage studies evaluating its Ebola candidate, remdesivir, in COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile, AbbVie ABBV is working with global health authorities to determine the efficacy of its HIV medicine, Kaletra/Aluvia against COVID-19. The company had stated that some sources have claimed that Kaletra has been effective in treating COVID-19 in China. However, it does not have clinical data to support the claim.
The HHS is also actively supporting development of COVID-19 vaccine. It has signed new deals or expanded existing collaborations with several other companies including Sanofi SNY and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to accelerate vaccine development.
We note that accelerated development of a treatment for COVID-19 will be favorable for these companies as well as people and economies worldwide. However, a safe and tested treatment option seems several months away, raising concerns related to the impact of COVID-19 on people and economies. Moreover, delay in availability of a treatment also increases uncertainty of any financial gain for these companies as significant decline in new infection cases and majority of people getting cured, as evident from the data from China, will lead to significantly lower demand for such treatments compared to current expectations.
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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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