Sanofi Brings SARS Experience to Hunt for Coronavirus Vaccine

French pharmaceutical company Sanofi jumped into the race to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus, betting that earlier work in pursuit of a SARS vaccine could accelerate its effort.

The drugmaker is teaming up with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, an agency inside the American government that funds R&D efforts for health threats. Sanofi previously worked on a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the related virus responsible for a 2002-2003 epidemic.

SARS, the new coronavirus and other recent global outbreaks have forced governments and drugmakers to confront the fact that technologies to develop and a produce vaccines or therapies for a virulent new disease move far slower than the pathogen. While some of the groups working on a vaccine for the new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, hope to have a version ready in 12 to 18 months, the virus has already infected more than 70,000 people and killed over 1,800.

Sanofi will rely on recombinant DNA technology, which produces an exact genetic match to proteins found on the surface of the virus, the Paris-based company said Tuesday. The company plans to further investigate a preclinical SARS vaccine candidate that could protect against the coronavirus. Sanofi didn’t say when a vaccine could be available.

The partnership follows a move last week by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to expedite work on a different vaccine with BARDA.

J&J will use technologies used to make an Ebola vaccine that was tested in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. That company’s goal is to get a vaccine in human testing within 8 to 12 months and make it available on a large scale soon after, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said.

“We’ll move as fast as we can,” Stoffels said in an interview last week.

Another drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, said earlier this month it would share its technology with other groups pursuing a vaccine through a partnership with the the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Glaxo’s effort will rely on a system designed to enhance the body’s immune response and create stronger and longer-lasting protection.

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