Aspen signs Covid vaccine deal with Johnson & Johnson

Aspen will produce up to 300m Covid-19 vaccines a year in its Port Elizabeth facility.


Image : ukurukuru Media/AFP

South African pharmaceutical firm Aspen, the largest drugs company in Africa, has signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine once clinical trials are completed.

The vaccine will be manufactured at Aspen’s R3bn ($184m) new sterile facility in Port Elizabeth, which contains the technology, equipment and systems to manufacture up to 300m doses per year for domestic and international markets.

Aspen will complete the formulation, filling and secondary packaging of the vaccine for supply to Johnson & Johnson under a preliminary agreement between Aspen’s South African subsidiary Pharmacare and Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Janssen Pharmaceutica. The agreement is subject to the successful completion of technology transfer activities and the finalisation of commercial manufacturing terms. 

Following the announcement of the deal on Monday, Aspen shares shot up 11.45% on Friday’s closing price.

Stephen Saad, Aspen group chief executive, said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine project will receive priority focus for the Durban-based company, which already manufactures Covid-19 treatments.   

“We have invested globally in our sterile capability and are determined to play a role in the manufacture of vaccines to add to our proud track record of making contributions to humanity in times of global pandemics. This has included, inter alia, being a leading global supplier for antiretrovirals for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, multi-drug-resistant-TB products and Covid-19-related treatments such as anaesthetics and dexamethasone. We have been selected as a vaccine partner by Johnson & Johnson and this project will receive priority focus. We are particularly pleased to be given the opportunity of providing assistance for patients in need across the world from our South African base.”

Johnson & Johnson started testing the vaccine in adults in a 60,000-volunteer Phase III study in late September, which was paused in early October after a serious medical event in one participant. The study resumed in late October, and the company told the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices last week that it plans to start testing its experimental vaccine in youths aged 12 to 18 as soon as possible.

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