Sanofi Pivots Toward Boosters After Covid Vaccine Delays
(Bloomberg) -- Sanofi will focus on supplying Covid-19 booster shots and fine-tuning its messenger RNA platform for the next pandemic after delays placed the drugmaker at least a year behind rivals in developing vaccines.
That means halting the development of the company’s experimental messenger RNA shot, which would be redundant by the time it becomes available next year, according to Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president of Sanofi’s vaccines unit.
Sanofi is working to anticipate the world’s next pandemic needs after first opting to endorse an older technology for a Covid vaccine rather than the fledgling mRNA approach that proved so successful, and then stumbling in clinical trials.
By early 2022, the world will be awash in vaccine doses and many countries -- including developing nations -- will have progressed enough in their inoculation efforts to want a booster that’s easy to store and can turbo-charge immunity regardless of the initial shot, Triomphe said at a briefing in Paris. The old-fashioned vaccine that Sanofi is pressing ahead with can meet that demand.
“The question isn’t if but when a booster will be needed,” he said. The protection afforded looks so promising, he said, that Covid is unlikely to require annual shots like the flu.
The Sanofi injection that’s in the final stretch of clinical tests relies on technology used to make flu vaccines. The same basic recipe, which uses an adjuvant from GlaxoSmithKline Plc, is being evaluated in a two-dose regimen for initial protection and in a one-dose booster form.
The European Union and the U.K. have confirmed they want the booster, placing firm orders for 75 million doses. The companies are still in discussions with the U.S. government about which portion of its preliminary 100 million-dose order it’s willing to firm up. One shot will cost less than 10 euros ($11.70).
Sanofi shares were little changed in Paris, trading at 82.21 euros.
Sanofi and Glaxo, two of the industry’s biggest and most experienced players, found themselves behind upstarts like Moderna Inc. last year after a dosing error delayed a crucial clinical trial. The pandemic allowed mRNA to go from an experimental approach to a blockbuster success in a matter of months, thanks to the pioneering work on a Covid-19 vaccine by Moderna and BioNTech SE.
Now that the research is back on track for Sanofi’s traditional shot, with final test results expected in the fourth quarter, the drugmaker is also taking a hard look at its work with Translate Bio Inc. on messenger RNA. The company on Tuesday said that the mRNA vaccine worked well in early tests, a finding that’s promising but doesn’t justify going into the next costly phase of trials because rivals have cornered the market.
“What’s the best use we can make of that platform?” Triomphe said. “It’s to build the pandemic protection we will need the day after tomorrow.”
The company is testing its mRNA technology for influenza and looking at ways to improve on existing shots by eliminating side effects and improving storage requirements, investing about 400 million euros a year in the platform. The risk is that it finds itself once again behind nimbler rivals, after Pfizer Inc. earlier this week said it was also evaluating the approach in respiratory viruses.
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