Johnson & Johnson IDs vaccine candidate, 2 backups for coronavirus

March 30 (UPI) — Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson said Monday it has identified a lead candidate for development of a coronavirus vaccine and it could become available within a year.

The company, which made the announcement Monday, said human testing of the experimental vaccine will begin by September at the latest — a “substantially accelerated time frame” in comparison to the typical vaccine development process.

As part of a $1 billion crash program funded by the company and the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Johnson & Johnson said it will also scale-up manufacturing capacity with the goal of providing more than 1 billion doses.

The company said it also has identified two backup candidates from its work toward developing a vaccine, which began in January.

“The world is facing an urgent public health crisis and we are committed to doing our part to make a COVID-19 vaccine available and affordable globally as quickly as possible,” said company Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky.

Johnson & Johnson is expects the vaccine could receive emergency-use authorization from the FDA in early 2021. Emergency-use authorization is an expedited means by which the FDA approves new drugs, or new uses for existing drugs, during a health emergency.

Government health researchers have supplied additional funding to expand a cooperative effort to identify potential anti-viral treatments against the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.

Also Monday, two major U.S. health insurers — Humana and Cigna — announced they will waive co-payments for all treatment costs related to the disease.

Humana previously said it would cover related out-of-pocket costs for testing, but will also waive co-payments involving treatment. The policy includes inpatient hospital admissions, fully insured commercial members, Medicare Supplement and Medicaid.

Cigna also said it’s waiving customer cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment through May 31.

“Our customers with COVID-19 should focus on fighting this virus and preventing its spread,” said President and CEO David Cordani. “While our customers focus on regaining their health, we have their backs.”

Pandemic empties streets, public spaces around the world

A Palestinian wears a protective mask outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, closed because of the coronavirus restrictions, in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 28. The Israeli government has imposed tight restrictions of movement, leaving only essential stores open in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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