Johnson & Johnson gearing up for COVID-19 vaccine data announcement

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Source: Drug Discovery & Development

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is poised to announce new data related to its Ad26 COVID-19 vaccine early next week. 

In an earnings call yesterday, management hinted that they expect results from the vaccine to be positive but stopped short at revealing details.

“We think it’s very important to follow the data — to follow the science,” said JNJ CEO Alex Gorsky after declining to answer a question related to COVID-19 variants and vaccine efficacy until the official data announcement.

The company published interim phase 1/2a data from its vaccine study in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month.

If the company’s adenovirus-based vaccine performs in the same league as those from Moderna (NSDQ:MRNA) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Ad26 could play a vital role in stemming the COVID-19 crisis. Unlike competitors’ vaccines, Ad26 could be offered in a single dose, potentially simplifying mass-vaccination efforts. 

Former Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui suggested that Ad26 vaccine efficacy could be in the 80% range. Slaoui had not seen JNJ trial data when making that estimate.

The company “hoped” and “planned” for 70% efficacy, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels told Time, but the vaccine could potentially offer greater efficacy, he added, citing encouraging early-stage trial data. 

UBS analysts estimate that vaccine efficacy from a single dose of the Ad26 would be 65% to 75%. The firm based that rough calculation on JNJ’s phase 1 data and results from AstraZeneca’s (LON:AZN) adenovirus-vectored vaccine, whose efficacy ranged from 62% to 90% in a Phase 3 trial depending on the dosing regimen of the two-dose vaccine.

UBS estimates that an efficacy level of 80% or higher could drive the company’s stock higher, assuming the clinical trial data is robust. “If efficacy is below 80%, there could be some weakness depending on the magnitude and cleanliness of the data,” UBS said in a briefing note. 

The potential for new COVID-19 variants to reduce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s efficacy could potentially weaken its standing. The approximately 95% efficacy levels of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines against early SARS-CoV-2 strains will likely translate to significant protection against the B.1.351 and P.1 variants, for example. “However, this is worrisome for vaccines that are not as potent in inducing neutralizing antibodies as the two mRNA vaccines,” said Florian Krammer, a vaccine researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in an interview with Science.

In any event, the Ad26 vaccine efficacy could be greater with two doses. Johnson & Johnson is enrolling a dual-dose trial. It anticipates data from that study later this year. 

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