US Teams Up With French Drugmaker on COVID-19 Vaccine

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
February 19, 2020Updated: February 19, 2020

The Trump administration is teaming up with French pharmaceutical company Sanofi in a race to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus disease COVID-19.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Tuesday it would provide “expertise and reallocated funds” to support the vaccine’s development. Sanofi will partner up with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority—known as BARDA—to develop a treatment using its recombinant DNA platform.

The French drugmaker’s technology will produce an exact genetic match to proteins of COVID-19, which will then combine with DNA from a virus harmless to humans, according to HHS. The antigens produced from this process will then stimulate the immune system to protect against the disease. The antigens will be collected and purified to be used in the vaccine’s development.

“Using this proven technology, we can pivot immediately to address this new global health threat. Our goal is a licensed vaccine to provide long-term health security against this latest virus and prevent future coronavirus outbreaks,” Rick Bright, the director of BARDA, said in a statement.

Sanofi was involved in the development of a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which was responsible for a 2002-2003 epidemic. The company did not specify when a vaccine could be available.

The development comes as leading experts last week warned that the United States could see thousands of cases of the new coronavirus and a significant surge in the spread of the virus in the coming weeks.

Asha George, executive director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 12 that the United States should be preparing ahead for cases of coronavirus in the thousands, warning of a large-scale outbreak nationwide.

“I don’t think we should be planning for the onesie-twosie cases that we’ve been seeing thus far in the United States,” George said. “We have to plan for the possibility that we have thousands of cases.”

There has been no sign of sustained human-to-human transmission among known cases of the virus in the United States so far.

A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Julie Gerberding, added that the United States must work to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson also said its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies will team up with BARDA to develop therapeutics for the new coronavirus.

“This is the third coronavirus to emerge and cause severe respiratory disease in humans within 18 years, and there are still no proven therapies to treat this disease,” Bright said in a statement. “In partnering with Janssen, BARDA is breaking this barrier to protect against this, as well as the next, coronavirus outbreak. This partnership may accelerate discovery and development of a new potentially lifesaving medicines for people with coronavirus infections.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference last week that the world must “wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one,” adding that the first vaccine was most likely 18 months away.