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Sanofi, Biotech Partner on RNA Covid-19 Vaccine

SARS-Cov-2 virus

Scanning electron microscope image of SARS-Cov-2 virus, in orange, emerging from cells (NIAID, Flickr)

27 Mar. 2020. Drug maker Sanofi and biotechnology company Translate Bio are creating a new vaccine to protect against the virus causing Covid-19 infections. The collaboration extends an existing agreement between the two companies begun in 2018 to develop vaccines against infectious diseases based on messenger RNA.

The novel coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread, with as of today (27 March) more than 551,000 cases worldwide and the U.S. now the leading country in confirmed cases. Several initiatives are underway to develop vaccines, including a project begun last month by Sanofi Pasteur, the drug maker’s vaccines division based in Paris, and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, the emergency preparedness agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Translate Bio, in Lexington, Massachusetts, develops therapies based on messenger RNA, nucleic acids derived from the genetic codes in DNA, and used by cells to produce the amino acids in proteins for cellular functions. Its technology designs messenger RNA as vaccines and therapies to correct missing or malfunctioning proteins, which the company says restores functioning gene expression without entering the cell nucleus or changing a recipient’s genome.

In June 2018, as reported by Science & Enterprise, Sanofi Pasteur and Translate Bio began a three-year collaboration on research to develop five messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines against infectious diseases. In the deal, which could bring Translate Bio as much as $850 million if all aspects are fulfilled, Sanofi is paying all of the project’s research costs, and will receive exclusive rights to commercialize the vaccines.

Translate Bio will manufacture vaccines for clinical trials, and will be eligible for further payments for those supplies. Additional financial terms for this extension to develop a Covid-19 vaccine were not disclosed.

“The Translate Bio and Sanofi Pasteur teams have generated encouraging preclinical data across multiple infectious disease targets as part of our ongoing mRNA vaccine collaboration,” says Ronald Renaud, CEO of Translate Bio in a joint statement. “This work will serve as a strong foundation as we direct joint research efforts against Covid-19 to help address this public health threat.”

Translate Bio says it is producing mRNA components for the design, development, and manufacturing of a vaccine to prevent SARS-CoV-2 viruses from causing Covid-19 infections. The company says it has the capacity today to produce 100 gram vaccine batches from its therapeutics platform, and is arranging with a partner company to produce batches as large as 250 grams.

“Having sufficient installed capacity,” notes David Loew, Sanofi’s executive vice-president for vaccines, “will be key to satisfy the strong demand for vaccines we will probably see, and based on the experience we’ve had under the collaboration to date, we believe the Translate Bio mRNA platform could help us meet that need.”

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