Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has announced that tests for a Covid-19 vaccine are set to begin in the coming five months.
Clinical trials in humans will start in September with a goal of manufacturing the first batches for emergency use authorisation by early next year, the company announced on Monday.
The American multinational, which says it has been working on a vaccine since January, has committed more than Sh105.1 billion ($1 billion) with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, to co-fund vaccine research, development and clinical testing.
According to the firm, clinical data on the effects of the vaccine are expected before the end of the year. If the vaccine works well in phase one of human clinical study, the company said it could be available for emergency use in early 2021.
"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," Johnson & Johnson chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky said in a news release.
Covid-19 has affected 693,224 people and led to 33,106 deaths globally.
While there are no proven therapies for the disease, WHO officials said the first patients have been enrolled for a historic drug trial to test treatments.
The agency is spearheading multi-country tests of four most promising drugs to fight Covid-19, including malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, an antiviral compound Remdesivir, a combination of HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir and a combination of those drugs plus interferon-beta.
About 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to create such a vaccine, at least four of which already have candidates they have been testing in animals.
However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that a vaccine is likely 12 to 18 months away.
Coronaviruses have caused two other recent epidemics - severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in China in 2002-04, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which started in Saudi Arabia in 2012. In both cases, work began on vaccines that were later shelved when the outbreaks were contained.
Since January when China shared the genetic sequence of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 research groups around the world have been able to grow the live virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick. This has led to the unprecedented speed with which vaccines have been developed.
For instance, Boston-based biotech firm Moderna developed a vaccine 42 days after the genetic sequence of the COVID-19 virus, called SARS-CoV-2, was released. The company built on earlier work on the Mers virus conducted at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
One company, Maryland-based Novavax, has repurposed vaccines for Sars and Mers to be used on Sars-CoV-2. Novavax says it has several candidates ready to enter human trials.
Johnson & Johnson will also expand its global manufacturing capacity so it can quickly produce the vaccine if it is approved, the company said.