Major drug companies join race for coronavirus vaccine

The search for a vaccine to protect the global population from the coronavirus disease has moved a step higher with an agreement between two major pharmaceutical companies to produce a cheaper vaccine.

Two drug manufacturing companies, Sanofi and the GlaxoSmithKline have signed an agreement to combine their scientific research capabilities to develop the vaccine for use in a few months time. The agreement enables Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline to use their existing scientific knowledge to produce a cheaper vaccine for the global population.

“As the world faces this unprecedented global health crisis, it is clear that no one company can go it alone,” Paul Hudson, Sanofi Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement following the signing of the agreement.

The two companies plan to initiate phase I clinical trials from June or July 2020. The success of the phase one trials would determine the next phase of the vaccine development process once drug regulators and governments approve the process.

Sanofi and GSK aim to complete the development required for availability of the vaccine from June or July 2021.

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

Considering the urgent humanitarian and financial challenge of the pandemic, both companies believe that global access to COVID-19 vaccines is a priority.

The drug firms are committed to making any vaccine developed through the collaboration affordable to the public through mechanisms that offer fair access for people in all countries. GSK will contribute its proven pandemic adjuvant technology.

The use of an adjuvant can be of particular importance in a pandemic situation since it may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and therefore contributing to protect more people.

Sanofi will contribute its S-protein COVID-19 antigen, which suggests parts of the coronavirus DNA, which are less harmful, maybe extracted and used to develop the vaccine. Sanofi’s S-protein COVID-19 antigen is based on recombinant DNA technology.

This technology has produced an exact genetic match to proteins found on the surface of the virus and the DNA sequence encoding this antigen has been combined into the DNA of the baculovirus expression platform, the basis of Sanofi’s licensed recombinant influenza product in the US.

The combination of a protein-based antigen together with an adjuvant is well-established and used in a number of vaccines available today.

An adjuvant is added to some vaccines to enhance the immune response and has been shown to create a stronger and longer- lasting immunity against infections than the vaccine alone.

It can also improve the likelihood of delivering an effective vaccine that can be manufactured at scale.