Johnson & Johnson CEO on the race to make a coronavirus vaccine

March 31, 2020, 10:07 AM UTC

Good morning.

Some good news yesterday from Johnson & Johnson, which announced that its experimental coronavirus vaccine could be ready for human testing by September, and for regular usage by early 2021. Most experts view the development of a vaccine as a critical step in conquering the virus, and getting the economy back to something approaching normal.

I talked with CEO Alex Gorsky shortly after the announcement. “Based upon our early data, we feel confident that we have a very good candidate,” he said. To speed up the time to market, the company plans to take the unusual step of ramping up its manufacturing capacity even as the vaccine is still being tested. Gorsky said he hoped the vaccine could be in use by early in the second quarter, reach hundreds of millions of people by the end of that quarter, and have reached potentially a billion people by the end of the year: “Our goal is to make sure this is accessible and affordable for patients in the U.S. and around the world.”

“I don’t use a lot of hyperbole. This is a moon shot for us,” he said. “This process can usually take five or seven years.” Will there be other vaccines? Gorsky says dozens of other efforts are underway. “Taking multiple shots on goal increases my confidence…This is not about competition between companies. This is a competition against corona.”

Gorsky was my guest in the latest episode of Fortune’s Leadership Next podcast, which you can find this morning here. Also in this episode, Stan Bergman, the CEO of Henry Schein, talks about the coronavirus testing kit that his company is testing that provides results in just 15 minutes.

More news below.

Alan Murray


U.S. Lockdown Expands

At the start of the month, the U.S. had less than 100 cases of coronavirus. On Tuesday, there were nearly 160,000 U.S. cases with 2,900 dead, and the country is preparing for expanded lockdowns and restrictions on daily life. Meanwhile, layoffs and furloughs have expanded, with Macy's and Gap saying they will collectively furlough 200,000 employees. That comes as lockdowns also expanded across Europe, India, and Africa—and as China tries to gradually return to normal. WSJ

FBI Talks To Burr 

The FBI has contacted Sen. Richard Burr over his sale of as much as $1.7 million in stock shortly before the spread of coronavirus pushed markets over a cliff. Burr has denied wrongdoing but has also requested an ethics review of the stock sales. The North Carolina Republican is one of several senators whose financial dealings shortly before markets fell have gained scrutiny in recent weeks. AP

M&A Halts 

M&A ground to a screeching halt in March, as companies prioritized survival over buying up others. Deal activity last week was 12.5 billion pounds ($15.4 billion), the lowest weekly total since the middle of the financial crisis, in 2009, and the value of deals fell in the first quarter overall, led by a particularly swift decline in the U.S. FT

USPS Shut Down 

Coronavirus should have made the U.S. Postal Service more valuable than ever, bringing packages and mail to even the remotest parts of the country. But even before the virus hit, the service was facing a liquidity crisis that, without intervention, would have hit in 2021—and now, with no relief included in the $2 trillion government package, it could cease to exist by the summer. Fortune 


The wheat boom

Prices for staples like wheat and rice are surging amid demand for pantry basics, disrupted supply chains, and falling currencies in many of the countries where they're produced—even while there's more than enough food. But it's getting the food to the right place that is the problem. “We have a perfect storm of sorts right now,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at the UN’s FAO. WSJ

Watch for the bottom

After JPMorgan analysts said on Monday that the worst was behind us, Goldman Sachs begged to differ, saying the market has still lower to go. Analysts there say there are three things that need to happen first, including evidence that coronavirus cases are actually slowing, and evidence that fiscal and monetary stimulus is actually working. Fortune 

Lessons from 2008 

The financial crisis of 2008 brought huge waves of high profile bankruptcies—and the fall-out from coronavirus could be even worse. Across the U.S., bankruptcy lawyers are preparing for an "onslaught", and with government bailouts only helping some businesses, a better-prepared bankruptcy system may be the best option many companies have. Fortune

Private jets in the age of coronavirus 

For Fortune's series "The Coronavirus Economy", David Meyer spoke to the CEO of a British private-jet charter agent about how his job has changed. For one thing, rather than offering a luxury trip to a holiday, now "literally everything" the company is doing is repatriating citizens—from cruise ship staff to offshore rig workers. Fortune 

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn

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