Biotechnology, Business, Drug Development

GlaxoSmithKline cautiously follows Sanofi, ramps up a new project for Zika with the NIH

Unlike Ebola, which quickly drew in the world’s big vaccine makers, Zika has been something of an orphan in the market. Of all the big players, only Sanofi has been pushing ahead on a new vaccine. But now GlaxoSmithKline is cautiously stepping into the field, allying itself with investigators at the NIH who will explore the use of a platform technology in developing a new vaccine.

The tech platform is SAM (self-amplifying mRNA), and GSK will house the project in its vaccine R&D center in Rockville, MD—just a short Uber ride down to the NIH. GSK designated the center as one of its new centers in the wake of its big asset swap with Novartis, which handed over SAM and the rest of its vaccine business in exchange for GSK’s most advanced cancer therapies.

Big companies have avoided Zika because they’re not keen to deploy precious R&D bandwidth against a little understood virus that may take years to solve, just to have see the virus burn out before any new products hit the market. That’s a fear.

Sanofi, though, recently struck a deal with Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to develop a test vaccine, working with the institute’s tech platform. And France’s Valneva announced that it had already produced a possible vaccine candidate. They used the same manufacturing platform as the one they used for the company’s Japanese encephalitis vaccine, which has already been approved.

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