J&J CEO Gorsky: COVID-19 vaccine makers aren't fighting each other. It's the virus that's the enemy

Alex Gorsky
J&J CEO Alex Gorsky said multiple vaccines will be needed to defeat COVID-19. (J&J)

With COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics rapidly moving ahead, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said there's not a competition among drugmakers, but a cooperative, industrywide effort to defeat the pandemic.

At a virtual meeting of the Detroit Economic Club, Gorsky said the “competition here isn't one of the other companies,” as quoted by the Detroit Free Press. Instead, the coronavirus is the competition for all of the players, he said. The helmsman celebrated Pfizer’s Monday announcement that its mRNA vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective in an early analysis as “great news for the industry.” 

"The best possible position we could be in is where we have four or five or six of these vaccines available in the year 2021," Gorsky told the audience, the Free Press reports. 

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Still, questions remain on all of the COVID-19 vaccines, including the durability of response and how they might work for various patient populations, he stressed.  

But while vaccines are seen as a key requirement to ending the pandemic, the CEO also credited companies working on therapeutics to improve patient outcomes. Gilead's Veklury and Eli Lilly's novel antibody have shown positive results and won FDA endorsements. Those advances mean patients are getting better care and fewer are dying, Gorsky said.

"What we're seeing is the great work that men and women are doing in the hospitals in better identifying, diagnosing and treating patients, but also we're making a lot of progress with the vaccines,” Gorsky said, as quoted by the Free Press. 

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson gears up for 60,000-person COVID-19 vaccine trial, the industry's biggest yet

As for its own work, J&J’s vaccine—in phase 3 testing as a one- and two-dose regimen—is using existing technology the drugmaker deployed for its Ebola vaccine. The recombinant vector vaccine platform is similar to a car chassis that’s been updated with a new interior, Gorsky told the Detroit audience.  

“We took different types of an interior, put it in for COVID-19, and we did a lot of animal model testing that gave us encouraging signs that the animals were at least responding by producing neutralizing antibodies,” he said.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson confident in 1B dose goal for COVID vaccine next year, looking ahead to 2022 

J&J has moved into late-stage testing in a massive U.S. trial expected to comprise 60,000 participants. The trial paused last month due to an “unexplained illness” in a participant, but a couple of weeks later, the drugmaker said it was preparing to resume the study. This week, J&J said it’s on track to deliver 1 billion doses next year.