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Sanofi Ends Development of Covid Messenger-RNA Vaccine

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 9/28/2021 Deirdre Hipwell and Marthe Fourcade
Sanofi Won’t Pursue Development of a Covid mRNA Vaccine © Photographer: JOEL SAGET/AFP Sanofi Won’t Pursue Development of a Covid mRNA Vaccine

(Bloomberg) -- Sanofi doesn’t plan to pursue the development of a messenger RNA vaccine against Covid-19 because the shot will come too late to market.

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The French pharmaceutical giant, which has lagged rivals in deploying the technology behind some of the world’s top-selling Covid shots, made the decision despite positive results in phase one and two trials. 

Carrying on with the development wouldn’t address an immediate public health need, because the product would arrive too late on the market, Thomas Triomphe, head of Sanofi’s vaccine unit, said at a press conference in Paris. Sanofi instead is focusing on another vaccine based on recombinant protein technology that could be used as a booster.

The French drugmaker is developing that shot with Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline Plc using a technology already in use in the company’s seasonal flu shots. That product, which suffered months of delays, is now in a late-stage trial and could gain clearance by the end of the year. 

Sanofi said it intends to file for clearance for both booster shots and two-shot primary vaccinations at the same time. The U.K. and the European Union have already ordered more than 75 million booster doses, the drugmaker said. 

“The question isn’t if but when we will require a booster,” Triomphe said. 

The drugmaker said it will also supply Covax, the program set up to deliver Covid-19 vaccines equitably to every corner of the planet. GSK and Sanofi have previously pledged to supply Covax with 200 million doses of their shot. 

Sanofi shares rose 0.4% in early Paris trading.

Ordinarily a giant in the vaccines space, Sanofi has lagged behind upstarts BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. in the pandemic as they raced ahead with mRNA shots that have now been injected into arms more than a billion times and generated billions in revenue. 

In August, Sanofi bought its messenger-RNA development partner Translate Bio Inc. for $3.2 billion with the aim of moving beyond vaccines and harnessing mRNA for treatments -- something BioNTech is investigating for cancer.

“Our goal is to unlock the potential of mRNA in other strategic areas such as immunology, oncology and rare diseases in addition to vaccines,”  Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson said at the time of the deal. The company said Tuesday it’s targeting seasonal influenza.

In June, Sanofi announced plans to invest about $480 million a year in mRNA technology with a newly created “center of excellence” focused on everything from basic research to manufacturing. That initiative is aimed at speeding up the pipeline of mRNA products being developed by Sanofi and Translate Bio, along with making mRNA shots that are more stable at average temperatures and less likely to cause side effects. 

(Updates with additional information on booster shots in fifth, sixth and seventh paragraphs)

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