MERCK will produce Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines in a collaboration that the Biden administration helped to facilitate.
US President Joe Biden said: “Among the things I learned when I came into office was that Johnson & Johnson was behind in manufacturing and production. While we had the potential of another highly effective vaccine to accompany the two existing vaccines, it simply wasn’t coming fast enough. So my team has been hard at work to accelerate that effort.
“Today, we’re announcing a major step forward: Two of the largest healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in the world – that are usually competitors – are working together on the vaccine. Johnson & Johnson and Merck will work together to expand the production of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.”
He said that his administration had invoked the Defense Production Act to expedite supplies of equipment that Merck will need for vaccine production. Merck received US$269m from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to adapt two of its existing manufacturing facilities for production of the vaccine as well as fill and finish.
Biden also announced that Johnson & Johnson’s facilities will now operate 24/7, after accelerating vaccine production “with the urging and assistance of my administration”. He said that this deal now means that there would be enough vaccine supplies for every adult in America by the end of May, two months earlier than previously expected.
Merck was developing its own vaccine in collaboration with Themis Bioscience and Institut Pasteur, but abandoned the effort on 25 January after phase 1 trials showed a weak immune response. Merck also had a partnership for another vaccine with IAVI, but this was also abandoned.
Mike Nally, Executive Vice President, Human Health at Merck, said: “This funding from BARDA will allow us to accelerate our efforts to scale up our manufacturing capacity to enable timely delivery of much-needed medicines and vaccines for the pandemic.”
In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said: “We are pleased to collaborate with Merck as part of our global network to manufacture our Covid-19 vaccine. Merck is the ninth manufacturer to join our global network and this significant collaboration will further enable us to deliver our Covid-19 vaccine worldwide. We will continue to invest in collaborations so we can bring our full resources and best scientific minds to combat this pandemic.”
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