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Janssen begins clinical trials of candidate Covid vaccine
Jansen Pharmaceutica has begun the first phase of testing its candidate coronavirus vaccine on human volunteers in Belgium. The trials were originally planned for September, but the company’s research has progressed faster than expected.
The first healthy volunteers in Belgium received the vaccine last week. In total 1,000 adults will receive the test vaccine, here and in the US. Janssen, based in Beerse, Antwerp province, is part of the US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
In the first phase, the company is investigating whether the vaccine is safe, what the possible side effects are and whether the immune system reacts. In a later phase, researchers will examine if it is actually effective.
“We hope to begin that phase in September,” Johan Van Hoof, head of the vaccine programme at Janssen, told Radio 1. “Then lots more people will be recruited and we will really see if the vaccine protects against the virus.”
If all goes according to plan, there could be a working vaccine available in the first half of next year, he said. “We remain cautiously optimistic based on what we have observed in animal tests. But we won’t say it works before we have real results.”
At the same time, many other pharma companies and research institutes have also been seeking a vaccine. Among those seeking a vaccine in Flanders is KU Leuven’s Rega Institute, whose candidate vaccine is one of the first in the world proven to protect lab animals from infection. The team hopes to begin clinical trials on human subjects by the end of the year.
“We are all using different technologies, but the underlying working principle is the same for everyone: we hope that the immune response against that protein of the virus will lead to protection,” said Van Hoof. “All the producers have expressed a commitment to be very transparent with the results of the research and to share knowledge so everyone can build on it later.”
Photo: A researcher at Janssen Pharmaceutica in Beerse © Belga/Dirk Waem