J&J sews up 5 years of coronavirus vaccine supply in $480M-plus deal with Emergent

Johnson & Johnson, like all drugmakers in the COVID-19 vaccine race, is hoping to cobble together enough manufacturing capacity to rapidly scale production of its shot hopeful. Now, to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars, J&J is ready to put its money where its mouth is.

J&J and Maryland-based CDMO Emergent BioSolutions inked a five-year work order worth at least $480 million to help produce the New Jersey-based drugmaker's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Emergent said in a release.

Emergent will provide "large-scale" drug substance manufacturing for J&J's recombinant DNA shot beginning in 2021, starting with a $480 million order for the first two years of the deal. For the final three years, the partners will use a "flexible capacity deployment model" to provide annual batches as needed, Emergent said.

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The contract comes as J&J gears up to start human testing of its candidate, Ad26.COV2-S, later this month in a phase 1/2a trial. And it follows Emergent and J&J's earlier pact to reserve manufacturing space for J&J's shot while initiating the tech transfer to begin a rapid scale-up.

As the initial step in what was pitched as the "first in a series" of manufacturing deals, J&J tapped Emergent to help boost production of its shot, which the company hoped at the time to move into phase 1 trials in September.

As part of the deal, J&J pledged to expand its own capacity for producing the vaccine with Emergent sharing its "molecule-to-market" manufacturing know-how. Emergent also reserved capacity at its Bayview Baltimore facility to support a potential commercial rollout of J&J's shot beginning as early as 2021, should it nab an approval.

J&J previously earmarked its Leiden, Netherlands facility for clinical vaccine production and planned to begin manufacturing the vaccine "at-risk" to support human trials.

RELATED: J&J inks 2nd manufacturing deal to boost capacity for COVID-19 vaccine

Within days of that initial deal with Emergent, J&J signed a similar agreement with New Jersey-based CDMO Catalent to reserve space at its Bloomington, Indiana, facility for large-scale manufacturing.

Catalent pledged to ramp up production at the 875,000-square-foot Bloomington facility and planned to hire an additional 300 workers at the plant starting in July with the goal of reaching a 24/7 manufacturing schedule by January.

For Emergent, the J&J work order continues a run of deals for the Maryland-based CDMO as it looks to cement its place as the manufacturer of choice in the COVID-19 vaccine race.

RELATED: AstraZeneca, Emergent BioSolutions sign $87M deal to produce U.S. supply of COVID-19 vaccine

In early June, Emergent and British drugmaker AstraZeneca inked an $87 million deal to manufacture doses of the University of Oxford's adenovirus-based COVID-19 shot for U.S. supply.

As part of the agreement, Emergent pledged to reserve large-scale manufacturing capacity for Oxford's vaccine candidate, AZD1222, at the Baltimore Bayview facility through 2020. The company also signed on to aid AstraZeneca's goal of producing more than 2 billion shots per year by 2021, Emergent said.

That deal came just days after Emergent signed a $628 million pact with the HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to scale production of targeted COVID-19 vaccines to make "tens to hundreds of millions" of doses available through 2021, CEO Robert Kramer said.

The government agreed to shell out $542.7 million to reserve bulk manufacturing capacity at the Baltimore Bayview site, which was constructed as part of a BARDA pandemic preparedness contract signed in 2012. The remaining $85.5 million would be spent expanding fill/finish capacity at two Emergent plants at Camden in Baltimore and Rockville, Maryland.