COVID-19 update: Sanofi enters vaccine race with BARDA collaboration; plus J&J-BARDA expansion, clinical and diagnostic advances, and more

With support from HHS, Sanofi is adapting the platform behind its approved flu vaccine to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

A Sanofi (Euronext:SAN; NASDAQ:SNY) spokesperson told BioCentury the company will, at its own expense, develop a virus bank and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will fund a "research lot that ensures reproducible testing and production of recombinant vaccines." The two will collaborate to choose a COVID-19 strain against which the vaccine will be developed.

Sanofi hopes to begin preclinical testing of a candidate within six months and expects an additional 12-18 months to enter the clinic.

The French pharma had gained the recombinant DNA vaccine platform as well as Flublok, an approved quadrivalent seasonal flu vaccine developed with the technology, via its 2017 acquisition of Protein Sciences Corp. for $650 million up front and up to $100 million in milestones.

Sanofi also announced plans to test a preclinical severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) vaccine that had been developed by Protein Sciences against the novel coronavirus.

At least 36 other companies and academic groups have announced COVID-19 vaccine programs as of Feb. 14 (see "WHO Mapping Out COVID-19 Vaccines").

Sanofi is the second company to obtain BARDA funding for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) last week announced that its Janssen unit will share R&D costs with BARDA to expedite its investigational COVID-19 vaccine program.

And on Tuesday, J&J expanded its BARDA collaboration to include a treatment for COVID-19; Janssen and BARDA will screen a library of existing antivirals to treat COVID-19.

Darunavir/cobicistat, which J&J markets as Prezcobix, is in at least two clinical trials to treat COVID-19 (see "Clinical Trials for Coronavirus Have Begun").

Clinical data emerge

China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) announced Monday that chloroquine phosphate had "fairly good efficacy" in COVID-19 patients, according to state run news agency Xinhua. Patients receiving the malaria drug exhibited fever reduction and pulmonary improvement assessed via CT scan; and, based on tests detecting viral nucleic acids, were more likely to recover and recover more quickly than other study cohorts.

Sun Yanrong, deputy head of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development under MOST, said one 54-year-old patient had exhibited symptom reduction and became negative for viral nucleic acids within one week of treatment.

At least two clinical COVID-19 studies are evaluating chloroquine or chloroquine phosphate.

Sun said over 100 patients have been tested in the studies; additional clinical results were not disclosed.

Chloroquine prevents endosome acidification, which in turn prevents viral replication by stopping the virus from dispensing its genome into the host cell cytoplasm. A January Cell Research study from the Wuhan Institute of Virology found chloroquine blocked virus infection with an EC50 of 1.13 μM (see “Coronavirus Biology” and "Preclinical Potencies").

Diagnostic adaptations

Mammoth Biosciences has reconfigured its CRISPR-based DETECTR platform to detect COVID-19 infection, and documented the method in a white paper updated on Tuesday. Results of the Cas12a-based diagnostic, which works by triggering collateral cleaving of a reporter RNA, can been visualized on a lateral flow within 30 minutes (see "Mammoth Makes Dx CRISPR").

Sherlock Biosciences Inc. released a similar protocol on Friday to quickly detect COVID-19 using its Cas13a-based SHERLOCK (Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing) technology.

Government delays

Separately, according to Xinhua, the standing committee of the National People's Congress will meet on Feb. 24 to discuss whether to postpone its annual session in order to focus on containing the COVID-19 outbreak. The annual session is scheduled to begin on March 5 in Beijing.

Further analysis of the coronavirus crisis can be found at The COVID-19 content is free to all who visit the site.


Cas12a (Cpf1) - CRISPR from Prevotella and Francisella 1

Cas13a (C2c2) - CRISPR-associated protein 13a

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