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Coronavirus: What sets Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine apart from those already in circulation

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Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is expected to reveal data from the final phase of clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine early next week.

The pharma giant will also announce whether it can meet the delivery targets agreed with countries that have already purchased some supplies.

Its Belgian arm Janssen has developed an inoculation that, unlike those already being rollout by several countries in the world, aims to offer protection with only one dose.

It is currently being tested on 60,000 volunteers across three continents in a study that started in September.

The first batches are hoped to be ready for emergency authorisation early this year, with J&J scaling up capacity to produce 1bn doses each year.

The formulation is developed Janssen’s AdVac technology, which uses a genetically modified version of the common cold virus (adenovirus) so it can no longer replicate in humans and cause disease.

It can remain stable for two years at -20°C and at least three months at 2-8°C, so it’s compatible with standard distribution channel without the need for extra infrastructure.

The competition

The jab presents some similarities with the Oxford University/AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) formulation as they have both been developed with the traditional method.

By providing the body’s defence mechanisms with advanced warning of the virus, the inoculation triggers production of the antibodies required to fight the real thing when it is contracted.

Oxford researchers used the copy of a chimpanzee viral vector based on a weakened version of a common cold virus, because it causes infections in the animals and contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, at the basis of COVID-19.

After vaccination, the surface spike protein is produced, priming the immune system to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if it later infects the body.

Therefore it can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2-8°C) for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings.

Moderna’s mRNA-1273, instead, remains stable at the same temperature for 30 days, but needs to be stored at -20° C for a longer duration of up to six months.

Conversely, Pfizer’s jab BNT162b2 not only must be stored at ultra-cold storage, between -60°C and -80°C, at all times.

This is because they are mRNA-based: driving the process is messenger RNA, or mRNA, which plays a fundamental role in human biology by transferring the instructions stored in DNA to make the proteins required in every living cell.

Medicines based on mRNA instruct a patient’s own cells to produce proteins that could prevent, treat or cure disease.

They are the very first vaccines of this kind to ever be used.

“A gamechanger”

“Global vaccine rollouts have disappointed Europe and the US seems poised to reach herd immunity in the fall… J&J’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine could be a gamechanger for vaccine rollouts if it will be at least 80% effective against COVID-19,” Edward Moya, analyst at OANDA, said last week. 

“Expectations are high for good news from J&J… The short-term risks are growing to the outlook, but no one wants to be short ahead of the potential J&J vaccine late-stage trial results.”

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