Johnson & Johnson says it will spend up to $200 million “to accelerate and significantly expand” the production of its Ebola vaccine programme.

The healthcare giant, working in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, has developed a combination vaccine with Denmark’s Bavarian Nordic which has shown promising results in preclinical studies. It is now planned to be tested for safety and immunogenicity in healthy volunteers in Europe, the USA and Africa starting in early January.

J&J’s Janssen unit is targeting production of more than one million doses of the vaccine regimen in 2015, 250,000 of which are expected to be released for clinical trials by May next year. J&J says it will also make an equity investment in Bavarian Nordic to provide capital for the development, testing and production of the latter’s vaccine.

J&J chief executive Alex Gorsky (pictured) said that “our innovation model enables us to quickly mobilise our extensive resources to collaborate with health authorities and governments and other experts to help contain this disease, save lives, and protect the health and lives of those at risk”. He added that “we have an important responsibility as a leading global healthcare company to do all we can to address this urgent unmet medical need”.

In preclinical testing conducted with the NIH, the combo has shown “complete protection against Ebola," said Johan Van Hoof, head of infectious diseases and vaccines at Janssen. He added that the firm has been able to produce large quantities of its component of the vaccine regimen in testing batches, “and we have already started production toward our goal to have these vaccines available for clinical testing in the next several months”.

A number of firms and governments are in the race to develop treatments for Ebola. These include the Public Health Agency of Canada which has licensed an experimental vaccine to NewLink Genetics Corp, while GlaxoSmithKline has developed a vaccine with the NIH.