There are still plenty of questions swirling around the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, including how many doses might be needed to ensure protection against the virus and, of course, which will ultimately succeed in clinical trials. Judging from the United Kingdom’s most recent deals, the government is determined to cover all its bases.
The U.K. unveiled two new agreements Friday, one with Novavax for 60 million doses of its COVID vaccine candidate, and another with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit for 30 million doses of its shot. If they succeed in clinical trials, the vaccines could be delivered to the U.K. by mid-2021, the government said.
The region’s potential stockpile is now up to 340 million doses from six different companies. If they all work, that would be enough for everyone in the U.K. to get five inoculations, several press outlets calculated.
The Novavax and J&J deals have research components, too. The U.K. government will support a phase 3 trial of Novavax’s candidate, NVX-CoV2373, which will enroll 9,000 adults starting in the third quarter. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, though Novavax did agree to expand its partnership with Fujifilm’s Diosynth Biotechnologies to manufacture one component of the vaccine in the U.K.
Kate Bingham, chair of the U.K. government’s vaccines task force, deemed Novavax’s most recent clinical trial results “encouraging” in that the protein-based vaccine “triggers an immune response greater than that in patients who have recovered from the disease,” she said in a statement.
Novavax hasn’t drawn as much attention as bigger players in the COVID-19 vaccine race, but it has been turning heads lately. The biotech’s executives told investors on a recent conference call that the company will have enough manufacturing capacity to meet demand in the U.S. starting in 2021, when it will be able to make more than one billion doses a year.
In a note to investors earlier this week, Evercore ISI analysts predicted Novavax would claim 20% of the market for COVID-19 vaccines, outpaced only by Moderna.
Under the U.K. government’s new deal, J&J will supply 30 million doses of its COVID vaccine candidate, Ad26.COV2.S, “on a not-for-profit basis for emergency pandemic use,” the company said in a statement (PDF).
J&J is also expanding its research agreement with the U.K. by launching a new phase 3 study of a two-dose regimen of Ad26.COV2.S. A phase 3 study of a single dose is already underway in the U.K..
“The sooner we start the two-dose study of the Janssen vaccine, the sooner we will know whether the vaccine can provide durable, long-term protection against COVID-19 infection,” Bingham said.
The one-versus-two-dose question is an important one for J&J. The company’s research collaborators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston showed in both animal and human trials that giving a second shot of Ad26.COV2.S boosts the antibody response to COVID-19 by tenfold. J&J is now testing both regimens in the U.S.
J&J is lagging behind Moderna and other COVID-19 vaccine developers in the race to approval, but its candidate has garnered some enthusiasm, largely because the technology used to create it has a track record. About 60,000 people have been inoculated against Ebola with a vaccine J&J developed using the same technology behind Ad26.COV2.S.