Biopharmaceutical Industry Insight: Coronavirus Vaccine Race


Towards the end of December 2019, a novel coronavirus (now named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2) was reported as the main causative agent in the outbreak of acute respiratory syndrome in China’s Wuhan province. Initially characterised as a zoonotic disease, human to human transmission has been confirmed, as the extent of the situation is still rapidly evolving.

In response, big Pharma powerhouse Sanofi follows in Janssen’s (Johnson & Johnson) footsteps as the second global healthcare leader to join the vaccine development race against the infectious disease, labelled COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation. The timeline from inception to licensing can take a number of years even with emergency use approval, although Sanofi hope to utilise a pre-existing recombinant DNA platform to speed up this process. This platform was acquired in 2017 following Protein Sciences research into SARS (responsible for 74 deaths globally in 2002) and has since been applied to Sanofi’s Influenza blockbuster Flublok. They hope the familiarity with the regulatory framework will also aid rapid drug development.

A number of smaller biologics developers are being supported by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to develop a vaccine prototype using their own DNA or mRNA platforms. Issues will arise post approval, where CMOs or larger organisations with considerable production capabilities will need to provide scalable vaccine manufacturing. Many major pharmaceutical organisations have invested heavily to combat previous outbreaks without development of a viable vaccine, resulting in caution surrounding mobilisation against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately collaboration between investors, coordinators, emerging biotech and pharmaceutical giants will be required to generate a variety of diverse drug candidates, in the hopes of getting a vaccine approved within an effective timescale. In the interim, transmission prevention and symptom treatment are the practices being implemented.

For information on how to prevent the spread of disease, please visit the NHS website.

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