May 13, 2020
French drug giant to give U.S. preference on COVID-19 vaccine
Americans will likely get Sanofi’s Covid-19 vaccine before the rest of the world if the French pharmaceutical giant can successfully deliver one.
That’s because the U.S. was first in line to fund Sanofi’s vaccine research, Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson said in an interview with Bloomberg News.
He warned that Europe risks falling behind unless it steps up efforts to seek protection against a pandemic that’s killed more than 290,000 people worldwide.
“The U.S. government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk,” Hudson said.
The U.S., which expanded a vaccine partnership with the company in February, expects “that if we’ve helped you manufacture the doses at risk, we expect to get the doses first.”
Sanofi is one of the biggest players among the dozens of companies seeking a vaccine, which is needed to reboot economies after a lockdown-induced plunge in output.
It has partnered with U.K. rival GlaxoSmithKline Plc on the project supported by the U.S. and says it could make 600 million doses annually -- a capacity that Hudson said he aims to double.
Governments around the world are launching funding drives and research efforts, including the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” which resembles a program at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Health advocates have warned that the race could leave out countries that can’t afford protective doses, making them vulnerable to mass fatalities and economic wreckage from new waves of the coronavirus.
“I’ve been campaigning in Europe to say the U.S. will get vaccines first,” Hudson said via a video link from his home in Paris. “That’s how it will be because they’ve invested to try and protect their population, to restart their economy.”
While French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spearheaded an $8 billion fund drive to support equitable distribution, others have raised the prospect of a pecking order based on national support for research.
Supplies of an experimental shot from the University of Oxford will be prioritized for the U.K. before other parts of the world, according to Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca Plc, which will make the vaccine.
“It’s important to have some of these discussions now,” said Katherine Bliss, senior fellow in the global health policy center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to head off the threat of “vaccine nationalism.”
While BARDA’s funding puts the U.S. first in line, the country may only be days or weeks ahead of everyone else, Hudson said.
Hudson described the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which has so far given $30 million for Sanofi’s program, as a “model” of how collaboration with industry should work.
China has also mobilized efforts to develop a vaccine. “So those two powerhouse economies will be vaccinated first, which is why it became so important to try to create a debate in Europe to say, ‘Don’t let Europe be left behind,’” he said.
BARDA has a longstanding relationship with Sanofi. The U.S. agency granted it a $226 million award in December to increase its pandemic influenza vaccine production capabilities.
The French company has been engaged in discussions with European governments about the potential to supply them with coronavirus vaccines, said Hudson, a Briton who took over as CEO in September.
“We’re getting phone calls routinely,” he said, with some countries offering to share the financial risk of producing a vaccine candidate before it’s proven to be safe and effective.
Many vaccine projects aim to deliver shots in 2021, with some targeting limited availability for health-care workers and other vulnerable groups as early as this fall.
Whichever country succeeds in bringing a coronavirus vaccine to market first is likely to claim ownership over some of the distribution process, said Krishna Kumar, a senior economist and director of international research at the RAND Corp. think tank.
“We cannot even trade with each other without getting into questions of tariffs, and so on,” he said. When it comes to a life-saving vaccine, “it’s not going to be easy to come up with arrangements.”
BARDA doesn’t dictate how many doses the U.S. should receive or the price of the product, and has an expectation that Sanofi will be “responsible,” making any vaccine affordable, Hudson said.
The agency has deployed hundreds of millions of dollars to health-care giant Johnson & Johnson and biotech Moderna Inc. to develop, test, and mass produce inoculations against the novel coronavirus.
Sanofi has two Covid-19 vaccine projects under way. The one that’s being funded by BARDA builds on past development work involving the SARS epidemic and technology it already employs in one of its flu vaccines. The French company and GSK plan to start human trials in the second half of this year and aim to have a vaccine available by the second half of 2021.
Sanofi also has a separate coronavirus vaccine candidate under development with Translate Bio Inc., which uses so-called messenger RNA technology to prompt the body to make a key protein from the virus, sparking an immune response.
Even if both vaccines prove successful, Sanofi likely can’t meet global demand alone, John Shiver, senior vice president of global vaccine R&D, in an interview earlier this month.
More than 100 other candidates are being developed in nations from the U.S. to Germany to China. Among those that have already begun human testing are experimental vaccines from CanSino Biologics Inc., Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., Moderna and a partnership of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.