Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK team up to develop COVID-19 vaccine

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK have entered into an unprecedented partnership to battle COVID-19.

The leading pharmaceutical companies have agreed to combine innovative technologies to develop an adjuvant COVID-19 vaccine. The new vaccine candidate is expected to enter clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and, if successful, to be made available in the second half of 2020.

On April 14, Sanofi and GSK revealed that they have signed a letter of intent to create a COVID-19 adjuvant vaccine, leveraging both companies’ revolutionary technologies, to help counter the current coronavirus pandemic.

Sanofi and GSK’s COVID-19 vaccine

Sanofi will submit it’s COVID-19 antigen S-protein which is based on recombinant DNA technology. This technological approach has provided an exact genetic match to the proteins present on the virus’ surface, and the DNA sequence encoding this antigen was incorporated into the DNA of the baculovirus expression platform, the basis of Sanofi’s licenced recombinant influenza product in the United States.

In turn, GSK will contribute its established pandemic adjuvant technology. The use of an adjuvant may be of great significance in pandemic outbreaks because it can reduce the amount of vaccine protein needed per dose, allowing the production of additional vaccine doses and thereby helping to protect more people around the world.

Paul Hudson, Chief Executive Officer of Sanofi said:

“As the world faces this unprecedented global health crisis, it is clear that no one company can go it 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.”

Emma Walmsley, Chief Executive Officer at GSK added:

“This collaboration brings together two of the world’s largest vaccines companies.”
“By combining our scientific expertise, technologies and capabilities, we believe that we can help accelerate the global effort to develop a vaccine to protect as many people as possible from Covid-19.”

The use of a protein-based antigen in combination with an adjuvant is well-established and used in a variety of already available vaccines.

To improve the immune response, an adjuvant is incorporated into certain vaccines, and it has been found to provide greater and longer-lasting immunity to the targeted infection than the vaccine on its own. It can also increase the probability of developing an effective vaccine which can be manufactured at a scale.

Phase I clinical trials to start in 2020

Sanofi and GSK are preparing to begin Phase I clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and, if this shows positive results, subject to regulatory requirements, the companies intend to complete the development required for availability by the second half of 2021.

As in an earlier announcement by Sanofi, the development of the recombinant-based candidate for the COVID-19 vaccine is sponsored by financing and cooperation with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S.Health and Human Services Department.

Both companies are also looking to explore funding assistance from other governments and international organisations prioritising global access.

Rick A. Bright, Ph.D, Director of BARDA stated:

“Strategic alliances among vaccine industry leaders are essential to make a coronavirus vaccine available as soon as possible. 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.”

The pharma titans have formed a Joint Task Force, co-chaired by David Loew, Global Head of Vaccines at Sanofi and Roger Connor, President Vaccines at GSK. The new taskforce will aim to coordinate both companies’ resources to explore every opportunity to boost the development of the vaccine candidate.

COVID-19 vaccine to be affordable and available to all people

Taking into account the pandemic’s unprecedented humanitarian and financial challenge, both organisations recognise that universal access to COVID-19 vaccines is a priority and are dedicated to making any vaccine produced through cooperation affordable to the public. And not only that, through certain structures set in place, the companies aim to provide equal unrestricted access to the coronavirus vaccines for people in all countries around the world.

These efforts represent a significant milestone in the current partnerships of Sanofi and GSK to help combat COVID-19. The firms also entered into a Material Transfer Agreement to allow them to effectively continue working together. It is expected that the definitive terms of the agreement will be finalised in the next few weeks.