By Fabian Cambero and Marco Aquino
SANTIAGO AND LIMA, Aug 26 (Reuters) - U.S. pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has added Chile and Peru to the Latin nations where it plans to conduct Phase III trials for its vaccine against COVID-19, a university researcher said on Monday.
The study will involve 60,000 volunteers from Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru and will be coordinated by J&J's JNJ.Npharmaceutical unit Janssen and local academic centres.
Miguel O'Ryan of the University of Chile's School of Medicine, which will host the J&J trial, said Chilean government approval was still needed.
"From our point of view, as soon as we have the vaccine available, within three weeks we should be able to vaccinate the first volunteer," he said.
"We have been working to develop all the necessary strategy and infrastructure to carry out a large clinical trial."
Neither Janssen nor the Chilean health ministry were immediately available for comment.
The J&J trial is one of several likely to take place in Chile. Sinovac is due to launch a search for volunteers shortly, while the country is also in talks with CanSino, AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L and Moderna Inc MRNA.O.
Mario Lopez, the Peruvian chancellor, told local radio on Tuesday night that the J&J trial would also be conducted in Peru, without giving further details.
Peru's President Martin Vizcarra said previously that trials would be conducted of the Chinese prototype Sinopharm, and that he was also hoping to confirm by the end of August trials by the AstraZeneca vaccine being developed at Oxford University.
J&J's prototype uses "viral vectors" to generate immune responses, similar to the approach taken by Oxford's vaccine developers and China's CanSino Biologics Inc 6185.HK.
Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia have had the highest rates of viral infections in South America, making them attractive testing sites for vaccine developers since it is easier to get dependable trial results in areas with high rates of active transmission and infection.
J&J's head of vaccines previously told Reuters it aimed to produce 1 billion doses of a potential vaccine next year and would consider injecting healthy volunteers with the novel coronavirus if there are not enough patients for final trials.
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(Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Marco Aquino, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
((Aislinn.Laing@thomsonreuters.com; +56 223704250;))
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