Viewpoint: Linking free markets to innovation is why capitalism is on the verge of defeating COVID

Credit: Sebastian Thibault
Credit: Sebastian Thibault

J&J’s road to the vaccine—from failure to life-saving success, from investment write-off to breakthrough—is a little-known story about science, business risk and innovation. There are also lessons for those who think capitalism is merely about rapacious profit.

“We would never be in the position where we are today if we had not invested billions of dollars over decades so that we could respond,” [said Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex] Gorsky.

In 2009, J&J entered into a partnership with Crucell to develop a vaccine it hoped could someday prevent infection from all influenza strains. Two years later, J&J bought Crucell for $2.4 billion.

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“At that time we had little to no experience in vaccines,” Mr. Gorsky says. But capitalism entails risk: Many Crucell vaccine studies failed… Still, Crucell brought along “two really important technologies that gave seed to what we’re doing today.”

One was the AdVac platform. The other was the PER.C6 manufacturing technology, capable of mass-producing vaccines quickly and cheaply. 

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“I think this is a golden moment, not only for Johnson & Johnson, but the biopharmaceutical industry,” [Gorsky] says. “We fundamentally believe that having a market-based, innovation-based, biopharmaceutical as well as a medical-technology environment, is critical long term to produce the best overall outcomes for healthcare.”

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