Tuesday 31st March 2020
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US healthcare groups bring hope in race to fight Covid-19 pandemic
Two US healthcare companies have brought hope in the race to fight coronavirus, with Johnson & Johnson announcing a potential vaccine that could be available early next year and Abbott Laboratories launching a rapid test.
Johnson & Johnson said it had discovered a potential vaccine candidate and was teaming up with the US government to invest $1bn in its development, expecting to start testing in humans by September. Shares in the world’s largest healthcare company rose 5.8 per cent to $130.17.
Abbott is launching a test that can take as little as five minutes and can be run on a portable machine the size of a toaster. Shares in Abbott jumped 8.7 per cent to $81.07.
US politicians have worried that pharmaceutical companies could profit off the crisis while making vaccines and drugs unaffordable for many. But J&J promised on Monday that the vaccine would be sold on a “not-for-profit” basis during the pandemic.
Alex Gorsky, chairman and chief executive of Johnson & Johnson said the company feels a “deep responsibility” to improve the health of people around the world, using its scientific expertise, scale and financial strength.
“The world is facing an urgent public health crisis and we are committed to doing our part to make a Covid-19 vaccine available and affordable globally as quickly as possible,” he said.
Troubles with tests have been blamed for a sluggish response to the outbreak in many countries. Abbott’s new diagnostic test for Covid-19 could cut the wait for results down to as little as five minutes for a positive result and 13 minutes for a negative one.
The test runs on the company’s portable platform, which is the most widely available point-of-care molecular testing device in the US. The test will start to be distributed to healthcare providers, such as doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics and emergency departments, this week.
J&J has been hunting for a vaccine candidate for Covid-19 since January. If the early trials go well, the company said the vaccine could be available by early 2021 to be used under an emergency use authorisation, a fast-track waiver from the US regulator.
Robert B. Ford, president of Abbott, said the device would help clinicians test “outside of the traditional walls of a hospital in outbreak hotspots”.
As well as the expansion of its partnership with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, known as Barda, on research and development, J&J is investing to rapidly scale its manufacturing capabilities, preparing to produce a billion doses by the end of 2021.
But while J&J has landed on a vaccine candidate far more quickly than usual, it is still behind Boston-based biotech Moderna. Moderna’s candidate was ready more than a month ago and entered human testing in March, six months earlier than J&J plans for its potential vaccine.
The announcements came as three top scientific institutions received new funding to embark on trials to test whether existing drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can be used to prevent coronavirus infections, in the first investments made by the Covid-19 therapeutics accelerator, funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Gates Foundation and Mastercard.
Source: Financial Times 31/3/2020
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