Sanofi Is Injecting Almost Half A Billion Dollars Each Year Into mRNA Tech Driving Pfizer, Moderna Covid Shots

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Topline

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi will pump around €400 million ($477 million) a year into mRNA research—used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines—in an effort to bolster its vaccine pipeline beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, the company said Tuesday, marking the latest vaccine heavyweight to see potential in the nascent field.

Key Facts

Sanofi said the investment will bring together around 400 employees across its sites in Cambridge, MA and Lyon, France to form a Center of Excellence dedicated to mRNA vaccine research. 

The Center will focus on pushing mRNA vaccines beyond the pandemic “to routine use in diseases with high unmet need,” the company said, expecting at least six vaccines to be ready for human trials by 2025. 

While Sanofi—one of the world’s biggest vaccine makers—is still trying to bring a Covid-19 vaccine to market, relatively small companies Moderna and BioNTech (who partnered with Pfizer) rapidly ushered mRNA vaccines through the approval process, the first time the technology has been approved. 

Jean-Francois Toussaint, who leads research and development in Sanofi’s vaccine division, said the technology has proven its potential to “deliver new vaccines faster than ever” during the pandemic.

With its research, Toussaint said Sanofi hopes to improve any side effects and make the vaccines more stable at higher temperatures. 

The Center is to be fully financed through reallocating existing resources, Sanofi said. 

Crucial Quote

Thomas Triomphe, the global head of Sanofi Pasteur, described mRNA as a “critical new technology… which could help reinvent health protection in the future.” Triomphe added: “While mRNA won’t be the solution for every infectious disease, its translation into routine prevention could have immense impact for many unmet public health needs.”

Key Background

Most vaccines work by introducing part of a disease causing organism, which has been weakened or inactivated, into the body. This triggers an immune response that will ideally allow the body to recognize and fight off the real thing should it encounter it in the future. The development process is costly, lengthy and onerous, often requiring large amounts of bacteria or viruses that must be grown. The process is relatively inflexible as each new strain or virus must be developed and grown from scratch. mRNA vaccines, by contrast, introduce the genetic material needed for the body to make its own antigens, the safe part of the infectious agent the body is trained to respond to, eliminating the need to grow organisms and allowing for easy editing and more flexible production should the need arise. The incredible successes of Moderna and BioNTech have reinvigorated efforts to develop mRNA vaccines and prompted major players like GSK and Pfizer to invest heavily. Efforts are already underway to apply the technology to HIV, cancer, genital herpes and influenza (flu).

What To Watch For

Sanofi aims to have its own mRNA Covid-19 vaccine approved later this year. 

Further Reading

BioNTech’s Humble Billionaire CEO On The Next Era Of mRNA Vaccines (Forbes)

The story of mRNA: How a once-dismissed idea became a leading technology in the Covid vaccine race (STAT)

Sanofi, GSK Covid Vaccine Triggers ‘Strong Immune Response’ As Firms Aim For Approval Later This Year (Forbes)

How mRNA became a vaccine game-changer (FT)

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