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Sanofi, in unusual move, to help Pfizer, BioNTech make coronavirus vaccine doses

Dive Brief:

  • Sanofi will help manufacture more than 125 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, agreeing to lend spare production capacity to the partner companies after setbacks and delays in the development of its own vaccine candidates.

 

  • The additional doses will be used only for supplying European Union countries, a company spokesperson confirmed to BioPharma Dive, with initial deliveries expected by August. Sanofi will use a plant in Frankfurt, Germany, to fill and package vials of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine.

 

  • Pfizer and BioNTech have said they can produce some 2 billion doses this year, but demand has widely outstripped supply as immunization campaigns have kicked off in the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Earlier this month, the companies briefly cut production at Pfizer’s plant in Puurs, Belgium, to aid their scale up of manufacturing.

 

Dive Insight:

Sanofi’s agreement is an unusual collaboration between companies that typically would be competitors, and reflects the urgency of quickly producing more vaccine doses.

The deal is temporary, however, with Sanofi pledging capacity at its Frankfurt plant only for this year.

“We have moved activities across sites to be able to manufacture over 100 million doses of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, on a temporary basis,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “This is the maximum we can produce in this timeframe with the industrial capabilities we have available.”

Le Figaro, a French paper, first reported the news, citing an interview with Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson.

The timing overlaps with a window Sanofi has while its own coronavirus development work is progressing through earlier stages after a December setback.

Along with partner GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi currently plans to start a large trial testing their protein-based vaccine candidate later this year. Should that study succeed, the companies anticipate the vaccine could become available by the fourth quarter.

That timeline represents a delay of as much as six months from Sanofi and GSK’s initial projections. Results from a an early-stage test of the vaccine were lackluster, forcing the companies to switch to a new formulation they think can spur a stronger immune response.

Sanofi is also working with Translate Bio to developer another vaccine that uses messenger RNA, but development is in much earlier stages. Initial testing in humans is expected to start this quarter, a bit after the companies’ initial target of December.

With a handful of vaccines now available in various countries around the world, some have called for manufacturers not involved or further behind in developing their own vaccine to assist those that have succeeded. Sanofi’s agreement is the most notable example to emerge.

This week, Merck & Co. announced it would stop developing two coronavirus vaccine candidates it had been testing after both underperformed in trials. The company, however, said that it will redirect its manufacturing capacity where possible to production of an experimental COVID-19 treatment it recently acquired.