Sanofi calls it quits on mRNA Covid-19 shots, scrapping vaccine from $3.2B Translate Bio buyout
Sanofi is throwing in the towel on mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines.
The French drugmaker will halt development on its unmodified mRNA Covid-19 shot despite what it said were positive Phase I/II results, a spokesperson told Endpoints News on Tuesday morning. Sanofi said the reason it’s stopping the Covid-19 mRNA program, developed in partnership with its new $3.2 billion acquisition Translate Bio, is because the market is too crowded.
“Our ambition is to make a significant and relevant contribution to the ongoing pandemic,” the spokesperson, Nicolas Kressmann, wrote to Endpoints in an email. “From a public health perspective, mRNA Covid vaccines are widely available today so it does not make sense for us to further advance our mRNA Covid vaccine into Phase III.”
The move represents a quick punt from Sanofi, coming a little over a year after CEO Paul Hudson shelled out $425 million upfront to partner with Translate Bio on mRNA vaccines. Hudson had seen enough positive results to approve the full $3.2 billion acquisition last month, but now Sanofi will set its sights on mRNA programs for flu and other areas rather than Covid-19.
When asked about other mRNA candidates in development, Kressmann pointed toward Sanofi’s June launch of a Phase I study for its mRNA flu shot. The company hopes to have six clinical mRNA-based candidates by 2025 across a wide range of indications including infectious disease, immunology and oncology, he said.
The Covid-19 program from Translate uses unmodified mRNA, which is different from the vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Unmodified mRNA therapies are earlier iterations of mRNA technology that have generally seen more pronounced innate immune responses — and, consequently, side effects — in patients. Sanofi said the Phase I/II trial saw no safety concerns and had tolerability “comparable to that of other unmodified mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.”
Some mRNA companies, including BioNTech and Moderna, moved toward the modified version after a breakthrough by University of Pennsylvania scientists Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman showed it to be safer. The pair modified one of the four nucleosides that make up RNA to help the therapies better evade the body’s natural defenses.
Moving forward, Kressmann said Sanofi will pursue both unmodified and modified mRNA-based treatments and vaccines, with a particular emphasis on “accelerating” the modified mRNA technology. In addition to the Phase I mRNA flu shot study, Sanofi is shooting to get a quadrivalent mRNA flu vaccine into the clinic in 2022.
“Based on the positive results that we have now, we are now accelerating our work to next-generation mRNA vaccines and aim to work on a less reactive and more stable technology, which is what makes sense now for public health,” he said.
Sanofi is still working on its recombinant Covid-19 vaccine with GlaxoSmithKline, currently in Phase III, and launched a study to evaluate the shot as a booster. The companies are trying to position the vaccine as a booster for any Covid-19 shot, regardless of platform, highlighting preclinical data that they said “strongly boosted” immune responses.
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