Merck will help rival drugmaker Johnson & Johnson produce its single-dose coronavirus vaccine, the White House said Tuesday.
The two pharmaceutical giants have reached a “historic manufacturing partnership” to ramp up J&J’s supply of its COVID-19 shot, which the feds cleared for emergency use on Saturday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
The Biden administration will support the initiative by invoking the Defense Production Act to outfit two Merck facilities so they meet the standards needed to safely produce J&J’s vaccine, Psaki told reporters during a briefing.
The Pentagon will also provide “logistical support” to strengthen J&J’s vaccine efforts, she said.
The deal came as Johnson & Johnson faced struggles with its vaccine production. The company is expected to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June, but J&J Vice President Richard Nettles told Congress last week that its “highly complex” manufacturing process was posing “significant challenges.”
Psaki said it took an “across-the-administration effort” to broker the deal between the pharma giants with the goal of helping J&J expand its vaccine supply. She did not say exactly how many doses Merck — which abandoned efforts to develop its own COVID-19 vaccine in January — would produce on J&J’s behalf.
“When the president came into office and as soon as we learned about the fact that Johnson & Johnson was behind in manufacturing steps and efforts, we took steps to ensure we could expedite that and partner them with one of the world’s biggest manufacturers,” Psaki said.
Johnson & Johnson, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, has a similar partnership with Sanofi. The French drugmaker said last week that its factory in Marcy l’Etoile, France is expected to churn out about 12 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s shot per month.
Merck declined to discuss the J&J deal ahead of the White House’s formal announcement Tuesday.
“Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics,” the company said in a statement.
The development came a day after fellow vaccine maker Novavax said its COVID-19 shot could receive an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration as soon as May.
But that timeline could be pushed back a month or two if the FDA waits for data from Novavax’s ongoing clinical trial in the US instead of using results from its UK study, CEO Stanley Erck told CNBC.
With Post wires