MANILA — Following reports that the United States might be first in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, one of the firm’s Philippine officials said they will not be picking favorites among countries that are most in need.
“We know we are dealing with a pandemic. So it’s a worldwide concern. This is why WHO is initiating some discussion to define how this vaccine could be allocated,” Dr. Jean-Antoine Zinsou, general manager of vaccines for Sanofi Philippines, told reporters during a virtual briefing on Friday.
He said the company always follows the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) guidelines, especially when it comes to public health concerns.
“I can assure you that there will be no favoritism created by Sanofi.
We will match the requirement and the expectations set by the WHO,” Zinsou added.
Earlier this month, Sanofi’s chief executive officer Paul Hudson reportedly said that the US “has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk.” But following France’s negative reaction, Sanofi said in a statement that it will always be committed to make its vaccine accessible to everyone.
Zinsou said the COVID-19 vaccine will be considered a “common good” so it “will be allocated according to some criteria that will be defined by the international community.”
And while he acknowledged pharmaceutical companies will have to pay back their investors for the cost of developing and manufacturing the vaccines, Zinsou said the international community will make sure that low-income countries have access to the vaccine.
18 TO 24 MONTHS
Zinsou said Sanofi estimates that it will take 18 to 24 months for them to register a vaccine against COVID-19.
He said the company can reduce the time needed to develop a vaccine since it is already using tried-and-tested technology.
“Normally it can take up to 20 years to develop a vaccine,” he explained, pointing out how the scientific community has yet to develop vaccines against malaria and HIV.
“In this case, (for) COVID-19, what we are doing is using the technology that is already in use,” he said.
In April, Sanofi announced that it was partnering with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to combine the former’s S-protein COVID-19 antigen and the latter’s pandemic adjuvant technology to create an “adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine.” An adjuvant is an ingredient that helps vaccines create a stronger immune response.
Meanwhile, Sanofi’s antigen is based on recombinant DNA technology, which has been used for flu vaccines. An antigen allows a person’s immune system to recognize a virus and learn how to fight it.
“Because we already mastered this technique — this technique has already been used for flu vaccines — it’s easer for us to go through the early stage of the development of the vaccine,” Zinsou said.
He said Phases 2 and 3 of the development, which refers to clinical trials on humans, will “take the normal length.”
The official assured the public that Sanofi won’t be bypassing other stages.
“This high standard we are not ready to compromise just because there is a sense of urgency,” he said, explaining that they closely document the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Zinsou said this is why various companies are being encouraged to develop vaccines.
“Out of these hundreds of vaccines only a few will reach the safety and efficacy requirements,” he said.
Zinsou said that to make sure that the vaccine is immediately distributed after its approval the company is “getting ready to produce 600 million doses per year.” He said it will also develop a capacity to produce up to 1 billion doses per year.
Besides its recombinant-based vaccine, Sanofi is also working on another vaccine that is “a little bit more innovative.” This involves working with another company that is developing messenger RNA technology.
“This is extremely promising but an entirely different context,” he said. “The scientific community is really excited.”
Despite the optimism, Zinsou said anything can still happen.
“We are dealing with biologicals. We are dealing with viruses,” he said. “Yes, we can project timelines. (But) we don’t know how the virus will react.”
“We have to acknowledge the fact that there are uncertainties,” he added.