J&J scores Ebola vaccine approval in Europe. Can the platform win again in COVID-19?

Johnson & Johnson has spent years building up its vaccine capabilities, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, its work in the field has taken on new urgency. Now, the company’s efforts—and the same platform it's testing in COVID-19—have yielded a first major approval as the European Commission endorsed the company’s Ebola vaccine, part of a regimen with a Bavarian Nordic shot.

The regimen is a combo of J&J’s Ad26.ZEBOV, approved as Zabdeno, followed eight weeks later by Bavarian Nordic’s MVA-BN-Filo, approved as Mvabea. It’s Big Pharma's second approved Ebola vaccine after Merck's nod for Everbo last year.

Like Merck, partners J&J and Bavarian Nordic accelerated their Ebola vaccine R&D in response to the deadly 2014 outbreak in West Africa. Already, about 60,000 people have been vaccinated with the regimen, J&J says.

Next, J&J aims to secure pre-qualification from the World Health Organization to assist with regulatory approvals in countries where the vaccine is needed.

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Europe’s approval for the vaccine is a “landmark moment—both for our company and in the world’s battle against the deadly Ebola virus,” J&J Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said in a statement.

The company has made a focused effort to build up in vaccines, including in 2018 by plotting a €72 million plant in the Netherlands to produce clinical supplies and support potential launches. At the time, an exec said the plant would support the company’s Ebola work, plus programs in HIV, respiratory syncytial virus, Zika and flu.

Now, of course, the company is heavily invested in the COVID-19 vaccine race. Last month, J&J accelerated its timeline for the vaccine, pushing to enter human testing in July. The drugmaker is among dozens involved in COVID-19 vaccine work, with Pfizer just this week turning in positive early data.