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03.08.2021 Europe

France's Sanofi expands mRNA vaccine drive with purchase of US tech firm

By David Coffey with RFI
AFP - JOEL SAGET
LISTEN AUG 3, 2021
AFP - JOEL SAGET

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, which has lagged behind rivals in developing new generation mRNA Covid-19 vaccines has announced it has purchased a US firm specialising in the technology.

In a statement released this Tuesday, Sanofi said it will buy Translate Bio, with which it has been working to develop an mRNA Covid jab for 2.7 billion dollars.

Sanofi was left trailing in the race to break out a Covid-19 vaccine in 2020, as rivals Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna used pioneering mRNA technology to develop jabs in record time.

In late June, the pharmaceuticals manufacturer said it would invest two billion euros in the technology by setting up a "centre of excellence" employing 400 people at its laboratories in the US city of Cambridge, Massachussetts and Marcy-L'Etoile near the French city of Lyon.

Making up for lost time

Messenger RNA technology works by providing human cells with the genetic instructions to make a surface protein of the coronavirus, which trains the immune system to recognise the real virus.

Making a traditional vaccine is a longer process that normally involves developing a weakened form of a pathogen. 

Sanofi, which initially went the traditional route, is still racing to make up ground in the colossal market for Covid jabs.

The European Medicines Agency only started a "rolling review" of Sanofi's coronavirus jab, developed with British firm GlaxoSmithKline, on 20 July.

mRNA vaccine development goes beyond Covid

Sanofi, which has been working on developing an mRNA vaccine with Translate Bio said it was betting on the new technology beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Sanofi chief executive Paul Hudson: "Our goal is to unlock the potential of mRNA in other strategic areas such as immunology, oncology, and rare diseases in addition to vaccines."

Sanofi is not alone in such ambitions.
Germany's BioNTech, which developed the coronavirus vaccine with US giant Pfizer, announced in July that it aimed to start trialling a malaria vaccine using the breakthrough mRNA technology.

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