Biopharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is mobilizing dozens of scientists to research the genetic code of the Wuhan coronavirus in hopes of developing a vaccine that can stem its spread. If the company is successful on that front, it will be able to leverage its massive global manufacturing capacity to produce hundreds of millions of vaccine doses for use worldwide.

A woman wearing a face mask.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has prompted a slate of biopharma companies to begin researching vaccines, but Johnson & Johnson is the biggest to enter the fray. With global annual sales of over $82 billion, it can deploy significant resources in support of its efforts. As of Wednesday morning, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had topped 6,150, and it had caused at least 132 deaths.

In the short term, Johnson & Johnson's plan includes evaluating existing antiviral medications to see if they're effective against coronavirus. Longer term, the company will bring to bear technologies previously used to develop and manufacture a Zika vaccine and an investigational Ebola vaccine that is currently being used in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Johnson & Johnson's antiviral treatments for HIV could offer the best chance for people who are already infected with coronavirus. So far, J&J has donated 300 boxes of Prezcobix, an HIV medication containing the active ingredients darunavir and cobicistat, to the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University for evaluation. It also donated 50 boxes to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention for research purposes. In 2019, Prezcobix sales exceeded $2.1 billion worldwide.