• J&J said preclinical data was extremely encouraging, prompting the decision to begin human trials earlier than planned
  • The company said it already is working on partnerships to put the vaccine into production rapidly
  • At least 14 possible vaccines currently are undergoing testing around the world

Johnson & Johnson announced Wednesday it is accelerating human trials of its coronavirus vaccine candidate and expects to begin testing next month. The trials originally had been scheduled for September.

“Based on the strength of the preclinical data we have seen so far and interactions with the regulatory authorities, we have been able to further accelerate the clinical development of our investigational SARS-CoV-2 vaccine,” Dr. Paul Stoffels, J&J vice chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer, said in a press release.

He said efforts already are underway to ramp up production if the Ad26.COV2-S recombinant vaccine if it proves safe and effective.

The phase 1 and 2 human trials of 1,045 healthy adults in the U.S. and Belgium will run concurrently as a double-blind study, meaning half the subjects will receive a placebo and won’t know which they received ,to assess response to the vaccine and the immune response.

“The company [is] committed to the goal of supplying more than 1 billion doses globally through the course of 2021, provided the vaccine is safe and effective,” J&J said.

The vaccine is one of numerous candidates around the globe under investigation amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected at least 7.3 million people worldwide, killing more than 412,000. The U.S. is the epicenter with nearly 2 million confirmed cases and more than 112,000 confirmed deaths, with Brazil catching up quickly at more than 739,500 confirmed infections and more than 38,400 deaths.

China currently is testing two vaccines that use a deactivated virus while Novavax and Moderna also are testing candidates and Gilead is testing a treatment originally developed to treat severe acute respiratory syndrome. In all, 14 vaccines and 130 therapies are undergoing examination with 450 others in the planning stages.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday called the coronavirus his “worst nightmare” and warned the pandemic is far from over.

International work on a vaccine has been likened to the space race, and President Trump has pledged to ramp up production even before regulatory approvals are given. He also said he would use the military to distribute whichever preventatives prove effective.

"When a vaccine is ready the U.S. government will deploy every soldier and plane available to deploy it," Trump said last month.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) shares were rising Wednesday.