J&J’s coronavirus vaccine could hit the market by 2021

March 30, 2020, 11:28 PM UTC

Happy Monday, readers.

A major bit of news from Johnson & Johnson today—the company is developing a coronavirus vaccine which it believes could hit the market by 2021.

That would be a stunning development. It usually takes anywhere from three to seven years, sometimes more, to move a vaccine from initial development to market. Pathogens are tricky.

But J&J is on a significantly ramped up schedule for a variety of reasons, CEO Alex Gorsky told Fortune.

For instance: the company invested in some vaccine technology development a decade ago which, according to Gorsky, “turned out to have much broader application than we anticipated.”

The firm is also ramping up its manufacturing capabilities should its vaccine candidate get an emergency use authorization by the FDA within the next year.

By the way, readers, during these challenging times we all have to make some changes. Given the importance of health care coverage in the current moment, I’m going to dedicate my resources to covering broader stories about the crisis.

As such, Brainstorm Health Daily will, for the time being, go to a weekly schedule. Watch for the revamped newsletter, filled with the week’s most important health care news, on Thursdays between 2 pm and 3 pm. We’re also planning a name change to go along with the new schedule but don’t worry, the format won’t change.

Read on for the day’s news—and see you again on Thursday.

Sy Mukherjee


An Australian company is trying to make computer chips from human neurons. We've seen plenty of comparisons between the human brain and computing technologies (heck, there's an entire industry based on brain-machine interfaces). But this, as far as I know, is a first—a company attempting to create artificial intelligence out of human neurons. The Australian firm, Cortical labs, "is hoping to teach these hybrid mini-brains to perform many of the same tasks that software-based artificial intelligence can, but at a fraction of the energy consumption," my colleague Jeremy Kahn reports. (Fortune)


Gilead shakes up its coronavirus antiviral strategy. The saga of Gilead's coronavirus antiviral continues. At first, the company's drug had so much demand under a compassionate use program that it had to halt delivery of the experimental treatment; then it received an FDA designation as an orphan drug which would grant it several market advantages; shortly afterwards, in a remarkable move, Gilead itself asked for that designation to be revoked in order to make sure it was more widely available. And now, the firm is switching from the "compassionate use" protocol to something called "expanded access." What does that mean? "While it will take some time to build a network of active sites, this approach will ultimately accelerate emergency access for more people," said CEO Daniel O’Day. (Fortune)

Malaria drug receives emergency use authorization for coronavirus. An antimalarial drug touted by the Trump administration as a promising coronavirus treatment, hydroxychloroquine, has received emergency use designation. The treatment has been controversial since it is largely untested for this particular disease and there have been reports of serious adverse events associated with the drug. It's still unclear just how effective it will be in larger populations (it's being deployed in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. to date), but it goes to show how drastic the situation has gotten. (Fortune)


Doulas adjust to the coronavirus crisis. My colleague Emma Hinchliffe has a wonderful (and eye-opening) piece about the burden that pregnant women and doulas, non-medical workers who assist with the birthing process, face under the coronavirus pandemic. While there have been certain exceptions made for partners who may visit their significant others giving birth, no such exception has been made for doulas—and it's squeezing both the industry and the women who rely on them, Emma writes. (Fortune)


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