© Reuters. The Johnson & Johnson logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the NYSE in New York

(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson said on Wednesday it would bring forward by two months human trials of its potential COVID-19 vaccine to the second half of July, as the drugmaker rushes to develop a shot for the contagious respiratory disease.

The company has already signed deals with the U.S. government to create enough manufacturing capacity to produce more than 1 billion doses of its vaccine through 2021, even before it has evidence that it works. There are no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19.

J&J’s study will test the vaccine against a placebo and assess its safety and immune response in 1,045 healthy people aged 18 to 55 years, as well as those 65 years and older. The trial will take place in the United States and Belgium.

“Based on the strength of the preclinical data we have seen so far and interactions with the regulatory authorities, we have been able to further accelerate the clinical development,” said J&J’s Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels.

The company is also in talks with the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to start larger, late-stage trials ahead of schedule, depending on results of the early studies and regulatory approval.

Moderna (NASDAQ:) Inc is at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine development and has started testing its candidate in a mid-stage trial that will enroll 600 patients. The company expects to begin late-stage trials in July.

Moderna’s vaccine uses messenger RNA technology, an approach that has not yet been approved for any medicine, while J&J is utilizing the same technology used to make its Ebola shot.

There are about 10 coronavirus vaccines in human testing and experts have predicted that a safe and effective vaccine could take 12 to 18 months from the start of development.

Shares of J&J were up 1.1% at $147.67 in morning trading.

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2020-06-10