Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline collaborate to speed up coronavirus vaccine development

The French drug giant Sanofi said Tuesday that it plans to use technology from GlaxoSmithKline to accelerate the development of its experimental vaccine against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Sanofi and GSK said in a statement that the vaccine would be ready to begin testing in humans in the second half of 2020 and that they aim to complete all of the work required to file for regulatory approval by the second half of 2021.

The new vaccine will combine a vaccine technology that Sanofi currently uses to make a flu vaccine, FluBlok, with GlaxoSmithKline’s adjuvant, an additive that increases the potency of vaccines, making them more likely to be effective and easier to manufacture in large quantities.

Unlike most flu vaccines, which are manufactured in chicken eggs, the FluBlok vaccine is made using a genetically modified virus in cultures of cells from the fall armyworm, a type of moth. The cells are used to produce a protein identical to one on the surface of the virus, which the immune system learns to recognize and attack. The Food and Drug Administration approved the FluBlok vaccine in 2013. Sanofi bought Protein Sciences, which developed the vaccine, for $750 million in 2017.

Sanofi’s work on a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, Covid-19, is being funded through a collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an agency that is part of the federal health department. The companies plan to reach out to other governments and global institutions on funding access.

Sanofi and GSK are among many companies racing to develop a vaccine against Covid-19. There are at least 79 vaccines in various stages of early testing, according to the Milken Institute. The institute’s Covid-19 treatment and vaccine tracker shows that only three of those are being tested in humans so far: one from biotechnology firm Moderna, one from biotechnology firm Inovio, and one from China’s Cansino Biologics. Pfizer and BioNTech are planning to start a study of their own vaccine, which is similar to Moderna’s, this month. Many of the vaccines in development use technologies that, unlike Sanofi’s, have not previously been used in an approved vaccine.

Vaccines that begin clinical trials succeed about one-third of the time — a higher success rate than is seen for many other types of medicines, according to a 2017 paper. Although public health officials have expressed hope that a Covid-19 vaccine could be developed within eighteen months, the process of testing a vaccine usually takes years.

The companies said they are committed to making any vaccine they create affordable to the public  and available through mechanisms that would offer access to people in all countries.

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