EU wraps up exploratory talks with J&J to secure coronavirus vaccine

The European Commission said Thursday that it concluded exploratory talks with Johnson & Johnson to buy Ad26.COV2.S, the company's vaccine candidate against COVID-19. Under the potential deal, once a vaccine has shown to be safe and effective against the novel coronavirus, the Commission said it "would have a contractual framework in place" to make an initial purchase of 200 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine on behalf of all EU member states, with an option to acquire another 200 million doses.

Johnson & Johnson says it will "now enter into contract negotiations" with the European Commission. "If regulatory approval for the…vaccine is received, the Commission would be expected to facilitate a process for allocation of the vaccine doses among the member states," Johnson & Johnson added. Chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels has said the company is targeting more than 1 billion doses globally through the course of 2021. Last week, it signed a supply agreement with the US worth over $1 billion for the large-scale domestic manufacturing and delivery of 100 million doses of Ad26.COV2.S.

Johnson & Johnson also recently initiated a Phase I/II trial of Ad26.COV2.S in healthy volunteers in the US and Belgium. That study, along with a potential Phase III study that could get under way in September, will evaluate both one- and two-dose regimens of the adenovirus serotype 26 vector-based vaccine in parallel.

'Intensive discussions' with other vaccine makers

Stella Kyriakides, EU commissioner in charge of health, stated "our negotiations to secure a broad portfolio of vaccines for our citizens and the world will continue unabated." She added "we will keep working shoulder to shoulder with our member states until the vaccine reaches everyone." The Commission indicated that it is pursuing "intensive discussions" with other vaccine manufacturers.

The EU is using about €2 billion ($2.4 billion) from an emergency fund to strike advance purchase deals with several companies in a bid to secure enough vaccine for its population of 450 million. Late last month, the Commission held exploratory talks with Sanofi and partner GlaxoSmithKline regarding a potential contract for 300 million doses of their potential vaccine against COVID-19. The pair has recently signed separate supply deals with the US and the UK.

The European Commission is also in talks with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and CureVac to buy their potential COVID-19 vaccines upfront, EU officials said in July. Meanwhile, the UK has secured early access to 90 million doses of two COVID-19 vaccine candidates being developed by Valneva, as well as a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech. It also signed a deal in May for 100 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine candidate.

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