2020-04-15| COVID-19

Pioneers Sanofi, GSK to Jointly Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

by Ruchi Jhonsa
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By Ruchi Jhonsa, Ph.D.

In these desperate times when COVID-19 cases are increasing by thousands every day, many big pharmas are taking desperate measures to cope with the pandemic. In an “unprecedented” move, combining their expertise and technologies, the two giants GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi have decided to partner on a hi-tech adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine that could be put out for human testing within months. If all goes well, the vaccine will be filed for approvals by the second half of 2021.

To overlook the collaboration and get the best out of it, the companies have set up a joint collaboration task force, co-chaired by David Loew, Global Head of Vaccines, Sanofi and Roger Connor, President Vaccines, GSK. While the duo is working on the details of the deal, a material transfer agreement has been made between the two that will allow the work to proceed smoothly. This new collaboration that strengthens the fight against COVID-19 is purely of non-profit nature. Both companies believe that global access to COVID-19 vaccines is a priority and are committed to making affordable vaccines for the public worldwide.

Paul Hudson, CEO Sanofi, recognized that “As the world faces this unprecedented global health crisis, it is clear that no one company can go alone. That is why Sanofi is continuing to complement its expertise and resources with our peers, such as GSK, with the goal to create and supply sufficient quantities of vaccines that will help stop this virus.”


A Significant Pairing

Unlike the century-old vaccines that utilized the entire pathogen, this new age vaccine will be made from only a small portion of the surface of the virus. Sanofi will utilize its recombinant DNA technology, tried and tested a few years back for the production of the influenza vaccine, to clone and produce the surface antigen, S-protein of the COVID-19 virus in a bacterial system. While Sanofi will contribute the antigen, GSK will enhance the immune response of the antigen by using its pandemic adjuvant technology. As the addition of an adjuvant to vaccines has been shown to create a stronger and longer-lasting immunity than the vaccines alone, it could potentially lower the dose of the vaccine given to each person thereby making more vaccines available to people in a short period. The duo has significant “manufacturing capacities” that favor the production of “hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine” in the time of need said GSK CEO Emma Walmsley and therefore it will be easy for them to scale up when the demand goes up. The companies have indeed made a significant pair by collaborating on the COVID-19 vaccine considering their long history in vaccine development and manufacturing.


The Two are Not Exclusive

Well before GSK and Sanofi decided to work together, they were already contributing to the vaccine efforts individually. While Sanofi formed two vaccine partnerships-one with a US government body, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and other with Translate Bio, GSK gave access to its adjuvant technology to other teams such as one in University of Queensland, Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Xiamen Innovax Biotech Co., Ltd.


Global Vaccine Efforts

After Moderna got its experimental vaccine out for human trials in record time, many other companies joined the global efforts individually or in collaboration with others. Pfizer is collaborating with BioNTech to develop mRNA based vaccine whereas Johnson & Johnson has teamed up with BARDA in a 1$ billion partnership to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. Several other drugmakers including Inovio, CureVAc, Altimmune are also advancing their COVID-19 vaccine candidates into the clinical trials. This global contribution from several small and big pharma is remarkable and could fasten the development of vaccines so much so that multiple candidates could flood the market by this time next year.

Related Article: Pharma Firm AnGes and Osaka University to Initiate Coronavirus Vaccine Testing on Animals



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