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UPDATE: GSK, Sanofi join forces to develop COVID-19 vaccine in accelerated time

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline PLC, two of the world's biggest vaccine companies, announced plans to develop a COVID-19 vaccine that will be ready for clinical trials in the second half of 2020. It could be available a year later if their combined expertise can successfully accelerate the decadelong timeline normally required for a vaccine to reach the market.

Paris-based Sanofi will contribute its S-protein COVID-19 antigen, which is based on recombinant DNA technology. Brentford, U.K.-based GSK will contribute its adjuvant technology, which boosts the immune response, allowing for less vaccine protein per dose.

The combination of a protein-based antigen together with an adjuvant already used in a number of vaccines available today is suited to a pandemic setting as it may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced, protecting more people.

The two companies pledged to make any vaccine developed through this collaboration affordable and widely available to all countries. A joint task force has been established to speed up the development of the candidate vaccine, co-chaired by Sanofi's global head of vaccines, David Loew, and GSK's president of global vaccines, Roger Connor. The companies have started working together effective immediately, they said in an April 14 news release, although they have not agreed on definitive terms.

In recent months, GSK has struck seven alliances across the world with biotechs and academic institutions seeking to address the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from the U.S. and China to this groundbreaking deal with France's Sanofi the only collaboration with a fellow big pharma company. Both companies have a much-needed complex vaccine manufacturing capacity, which requires a global supply chain, and there will be capacity planning in order to scale volumes once approval is granted, GSK's CEO said.

"At GSK, we are determined to help with solutions," CEO Emma Walmsley told reporters on a conference call. "Tackling this virus urgently requires partnerships, a global approach, commitment to access and investment in long-term pandemic preparedness. As the world's leading vaccine manufacturer, our number one focus is to help to develop a vaccine this is, of course, core to the exit plan that the world needs," Walmsley said.

Sanofi's COVID-19 vaccine candidate is being funded through a collaboration with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and the companies will discuss funding support with other governments and global institutions prioritizing global access. Walmsley said she hoped a number of different vaccines will eventually become available.

"Strategic alliances among vaccine industry leaders are essential to make a coronavirus vaccine available as soon as possible," said BARDA Director Rick Bright. "Development of the adjuvanted recombinant-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate holds the potential to lower the vaccine dose to provide vaccine to a greater number of people to end this pandemic, and help the world become better prepared or even prevent future coronavirus outbreaks."

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