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Sanofi joins coronavirus vaccine effort under US government partnership

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A microscopic image of coronavirus.

Source: U.S. National Institutes of Health

Sanofi's vaccine unit is collaborating with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop a product to protect against the new coronavirus spreading throughout the world.

Sanofi Pasteur joins other companies, like Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, in partnering with the U.S. government in the pursuit of a coronavirus vaccine.

The coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, has infected nearly 73,000 people worldwide and killed almost 1,900, according to the World Health Organization. Most of those infections and deaths occurred in China.

Sanofi said it plans to leverage previous preclinical work conducted by Protein Sciences, which it acquired in 2017, on a vaccine candidate targeting severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The project will involve using Sanofi's recombinant DNA platform to produce a coronavirus vaccine candidate, the French biopharmaceutical manufacturer said in a Feb. 18 statement.

The technology produces an exact genetic match to proteins found on the surface of the virus, the company said.

The DNA sequence encoding this antigen will be combined into the DNA of the baculovirus expression platform — the basis of Sanofi's U.S.-licensed recombinant influenza product Flublok — and used to rapidly produce large quantities of the coronavirus antigen, which will be formulated to stimulate the immune system to protect against the virus, the company said.

"Since there is a licensed vaccine based on this platform this will allow for research and materials to be produced relatively quickly for clinical testing," Sanofi stated.

Sanofi and Protein Sciences have worked with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, in other collaborations, including on Flublok, which has been added to the U.S. National Pre-Pandemic Influenza Vaccine Stockpile.

In December 2019, BARDA and Sanofi began focusing on increasing manufacturing capacity for recombinant influenza vaccine in the U.S.

"While we are lending our expertise where possible, we believe the collaboration with BARDA may provide the most meaningful results in protecting the public from this latest outbreak," said David Loew, global head of vaccines at Sanofi.

Sanofi's recombinant DNA technology has allowed the company and the government to immediately pivot to address the coronavirus, BARDA Director Rick Bright said.

"Flexibility and scalability are cornerstones of rapid response to an emerging infectious disease," Bright stated.

He noted that the ultimate goal of the collaboration is to have a licensed vaccine that will provide long-term security against the coronavirus.

J&J collaboration

BARDA is also working with Johnson & Johnson unit Janssen Pharmaceutical on a coronavirus vaccine.

J&J revealed in late January it had initiated efforts to develop multiple vaccine candidates against coronavirus and broadly collaborate with others to screen the company's library of antiviral therapies.

On Feb. 18, J&J and BARDA said they were expanding their collaboration to include that screening work with the aim of identifying compounds with activity against the coronavirus.

J&J is working with the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium on the screening work.

BARDA is providing funding for its collaborations with Sanofi and J&J but did not disclose the amounts for the projects.

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health, is also working with Moderna on a vaccine against the new coronavirus. However, Moderna and the agency will need to rely on a larger biopharmaceutical company to manufacture the product if it is successful in clinical testing — a partner the parties have not yet secured.

Last week, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said recruiting large companies for infectious disease products is generally challenging, though a few days later he said he was more optimistic that Moderna would attract a partner to produce its vaccine.