Johnson & Johnson sets stage for COVID-19 shot rollout with 'first in a series' manufacturing deal

Johnson & Johnson aims to enter it COVID-19 vaccine hopeful into human trials in September. (Johnson & Johnson)

Johnson & Johnson has joined a suite of drugmakers hoping to pump out a COVID-19 vaccine as fast as possible. Now, the company is pairing with a contract manufacturer to prep the field for its potential vaccine launch.

J&J inked a deal with Emergent BioSolutions to boost manufacturing of the New Jersey drugmaker's top COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which the company hopes to move into phase 1 trials in September, J&J said in a release.

As part of the deal, J&J will expand its own capacity for producing the vaccine candidate, and Emergent will begin using its "molecule-to-market" manufacturing to chip in later this year. Emergent will also reserve capacity to support a potential commercial rollout of J&J's shot beginning as early as 2021 should it nab an approval.

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

Meanwhile, J&J is aiming to amp up vaccine capacity worldwide in anticipation of a potential rollout around the world. The drugmaker called the Emergent deal the "first in a series" to help boost its global production scale in preparation for its hoped-for approvals.

"The additional global capacity will assist in the rapid production of a vaccine and enable the supply of more than one billion doses of a safe and effective vaccine to people around the world," J&J said in a release.

RELATED: A bull's-eye from 24 feet? COVID-19 vaccine timelines are overly hopeful, analyst says

Despite J&J's hopes that its vaccine could be ready to ship as early as next year, some market watchers think that timeline is woefully optimistic.

In a 25-page note earlier this week titled “Sober Up! 25 Reasons Not to Count on COVID Vaccine for Herd Immunity in 1-2 years,” SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges says it’ll take several years—not months—to develop a safe and effective vaccine and administer it to enough people for widespread protection.

“We view the current expectations for a vaccine in this timeframe as the equivalent of standing 24 feet (the usual distance is 8 feet) from a dartboard, with one dart in hand, and counting on a bullseye from one throw,” the analyst wrote. “It is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely, that such expectations are correct.”

RELATED: How is COVID-19 affecting drugmakers? J&J execs offer some early clues

J&J, like most global drugmakers, has seen its operations hit by COVID-19.

Earlier this month, J&J lowered its revenue guidance for the year by more than $4 billion at the high end—and $6.4 billion at the low end. The company now expects to generate between $79.2 billion and $82.2 billion in 2020, down from a prior estimate of $85.8 billion to $86.6 billion, executives said on a first-quarter earnings call.

Included in the update are several assumptions about how the pandemic will play out. For one thing, J&J's new numbers are counting on an “acute, shorter-term impact rather than a prolonged impact,” CFO Joe Wolk told analysts.

The company said it expected a mid-April peak in the U.S and several European countries, as predicted by the prominent IHME model. J&J further weighed expert commentary and believes that if COVID-19 returns in the fall, the world “should be much better prepared to test, identify and isolate” the virus, Wolk said.

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