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Sanofi adds mRNA to coronavirus vaccine push

Sanofi and Translate Bio will develop an mRNA-based vaccine candidate meant to prevent infections of the new coronavirus, building onto an existing collaboration.Sanofi and Translate join Moderna Therapeutics, BioNTech and CureVac in a developing race to come up with an mRNA vaccine, which in theory could be faster to deliver to patients than traditional approaches. Moderna leads the way, having already begun human tests of its experimental vaccine in collaboration with the U.S. government.Sanofi is continuing its efforts to develop a protein-based coronavirus vaccine in partnership with another U.S. government agency, and said that candidate could be in clinical trials by later this year.

The speed of the coronavirus’ spread has spurred interest in mRNA, or messenger RNA, vaccines, which may be quicker to develop than older technologies. mRNA vaccines are designed to coax the body into producing an immune response against a virus, while older technologies use a protein to stimulate the same response.

mRNA vaccines may be developed faster and at a lower cost than older approaches, although none have been approved for commercial use in any disease. However, the urgent need for a coronavirus vaccine has turned the spotlight onto companies working in this space. Moderna, in particular, responded by quickly getting a vaccine ready for trials in humans just 42 days after the virus’ genetic sequence was developed.

By comparison, Sanofi says its protein-based vaccine may enter animal testing within four to six months, and human studies by late this year. That vaccine is being developed in collaboration with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which has also partnered with Johnson & Johnson on a vaccine.

Translate has begun to develop several mRNA constructs and will use its platform to develop “a number of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates,” Sanofi said. The Paris-based pharma will apply its vaccine expertise and external research partners to advance candidates that emerge from Translate’s laboratories.

Translate has already built capacity for single batches of 100 grams, and with a contract partner will develop enough to produce two 250 gram batches per month, Sanofi said.

Translate’s vaccine will trail Moderna’s by several months. “We have a streamlined development plan which does not compromise quality or safety and if all goes well, we could have a clinic-ready candidate later this year/by year end,” a company spokesman said in an email to BioPharma Dive.

The spokesperson characterized Sanof’s decision to partner with Translate as a bid to increase its chances for success. “This is not a competition. No one company can address this problem,” he wrote.

The coronavirus work grew out of an existing partnership between Sanofi and Translate to develop up to five mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases. That 2018 deal included $45 million in an upfront payment and up to $805 million in potential milestones.

Translate acquired its mRNA technology in 2017 from Shire, now part of Takeda.