J&J forms consortia to accelerate Ebola vaccine development, gets €100M boost from IMI

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) may have been third to bring its Ebola vaccine to human trials, but it is about to pick up the pace on developing its candidate, thanks to a €100 million grant from a European public-private partnership.

J&J announced Friday the formation of consortia with leading global research institutions and NGOs, which will work with its Janssen subsidiary to accelerate the development of its Ebola vaccine. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) will contribute grants to these consortia, totaling more than €100 million ($115 million).

The consortia include such organizations as the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Oxford, the Grameen Foundation and Bavarian Nordic, with whom J&J is collaborating on the vaccine.

The funds will be used toward clinical trials and to scale up production of J&J's so-called prime-boost Ebola vaccine. They will also be used to raise awareness and acceptance of vaccination campaigns. On Jan. 6, J&J announced that it had already produced more than 400,000 vaccine regimens, plans to have 2 million by the end of the year and could ramp up production to 5 million regimens over the course of 12 to 18 months.

Dr. Matthew Snape, one of the study leaders

The candidate is already in Phase I trials at Oxford University's Oxford Vaccines Group. Initial testing was met by "an astonishing response from the public to volunteer for the trials," said Professor Andrew Pollard and Dr. Matthew Snape, who are leading the trials.

In October, J&J announced a commitment of up to $200 million to accelerate and expand production of an Ebola vaccine program at Janssen. Since then, it has been seeking funding partners.

The prime-boost vaccine, unlike the experimental jabs developed by GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and jointly by Merck ($MRK) and NewLink ($NLNK), is a two-dose regimen. The first dose primes the immune system, and a booster is given later to enhance the immune response. While this may improve protection, it may make mass immunization more complicated.

While J&J, Glaxo, Merck and NewLink have only recently accelerated development of their Ebola candidates, late-stage trials could come soon for the latter three. Both vaccines have exhibited an "acceptable safety profile," according to the World Health Organization, and could enter late-stage trials in Liberia by the end of this month.

- here's the release

Special Reports: 10 drugs that could stop Ebola | The top 5 vaccine makers by 2013 revenue - Merck - GlaxoSmithKline