Johnson & Johnson steps up vaccines R&D—and prepares for launches—with €72M plant

Johnson & Johnson has big ambitions in vaccines, and to get there, its manufacturing has to measure up. The small plant acquired in its Crucell purchase just won't support its advancing pipeline candidates—and certainly not product launches down the road.

That's why the company targeted a new plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, for expansion. On Thursday, the drugmaker officially opened the site after four years of work. All told, J&J spent about €72 million on the plant, said Johan Van Hoof, Janssen global therapeutic area head of infectious disease and vaccines.

The plant will produce clinical trial doses of J&J’s viral vaccine candidates, including its programs in HIV, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Ebola, Zika and potentially, a universal flu vaccine, Van Hoof told FiercePharma. If it nabs approval for those shots, the facility could also support the early stages of a commercial launch.

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J&J picked the site because it's near the company’s vaccine R&D arm. For the project, the drugmaker refurbished an older building at the site, Van Hoof said.

The plant opening comes as J&J advances its HIV vaccine candidate—currently in efficacy testing in five southern African countries—as well as other candidates in early stages. J&J has also teamed with the global epidemic preparedness group CEPI to work on a potential vaccine against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

“The progress we have made … clearly has impressed some key stakeholders in the field and has allowed us to concretely create partnerships” with groups such as the U.S. agency BARDA, part of the Department of Health and Human Services; the Gates Foundation; and others, Van Hoof said.

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J&J entered vaccines through its 2011 purchase of Crucell. It's focusing on diseases where vaccines aren't yet available or those where a better vaccine is needed, Van Hoof said. HIV is a top priority, followed by respiratory infections such as RSV and flu. Other focus areas include a late-stage Ebola vaccine and a new, affordable inactivated polio vaccine.