J&J Halts Covid-19 Vaccine Trial Due To ‘Unexplained Illness’

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) has halted its late-stage Covid-19 vaccine trial after a study participant fell ill, news provider STAT has reported. The details of the ‘unexplained illness’ have not been provided.

 “We must respect this participant’s privacy. We’re also learning more about this participant’s illness, and it’s important to have all the facts before we share additional information,” JNJ told STAT in a statement.

A document sent to researchers running the 60,000-patient clinical trial, and obtained by STAT, revealed that a “pausing rule” had been met, and as a result the online enrollment system was closed and an independent safety committee would be convened.

However JNJ did emphasize to STAT that this is a study pause- which often occurs during drug trials- rather than the more formal regulatory requirement of a clinical hold. Plus it added that “it is not always immediately apparent” whether the participant was trialing the drug or a placebo.

“If we do a study of 60,000 people, that is a small village,” a STAT source familiar with the drug trial said. “In a small village there are a lot of medical events that happen.”

Shares in Johnson & Johnson are up 4% year-to-date, and the stock scores a very bullish Strong Buy Street consensus. That’s with 8 back-to-back buy ratings over the last three months. Meanwhile the average analyst price target of $167 indicates 10% upside potential lies ahead.

On October 12, Cowen & Co analyst Josh Jennings reiterated his buy rating on the stock with a $170 price target. According to the analyst, the Street is underestimating JNJ’s third quarter earnings potential- and this creates a buying opportunity.  

He told investors: “JNJ shares have been relatively flat since the 2Q earnings call despite its diversified business model demonstrating better than expected resiliency throughout 1H’20. JNJ only experienced a 9% operational revenue decline in 2Q during the most challenging period of the COVID-19 storm.”

“With stronger Med Tech recovery trends, we expect JNJ to deliver sequentially better financial results in 3Q. We have revised our model in front of 3Q results to account for intraquarter commentary from Med Tech peers, which details a recovery that significantly outpaces JNJ’s 3Q sales guidance range of -25% to -10% for the Medical Devices unit.” (See JNJ stock analysis on TipRanks)

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