GSK and Sanofi join forces to work on coronavirus vaccine | Science


Two of the world’s biggest vaccine companies have joined forces in an unprecedented effort to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

What is Covid-19?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a pandemic.

What are the symptoms this coronavirus causes?

According to the WHO, the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Some patients may also have a runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion and aches and pains or diarrhoea. Some people report losing their sense of taste and/or smell. About 80% of people who get Covid-19 experience a mild case – about as serious as a regular cold – and recover without needing any special treatment.

About one in six people, the WHO says, become seriously ill. The elderly and people with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, or chronic respiratory conditions, are at a greater risk of serious illness from Covid-19.

In the UK, the National health Service (NHS) has identified the specific symptoms to look for as experiencing either:

  • a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly

As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work, and there is currently no vaccine. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

Medical advice varies around the world – with many countries imposing travel bans and lockdowns to try and prevent the spread of the virus. In many place people are being told to stay at home rather than visit a doctor of hospital in person. Check with your local authorities.

In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days. If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

How many people have been affected?

China’s national health commission confirmed human-to-human transmission in January. As of 6 April, more than 1.25m people have been infected in more than 180 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

There have been over 69,500 deaths globally. Just over 3,200 of those deaths have occurred in mainland China. Italy has been worst affected, with over 15,800 fatalities, and there have been over 12,600 deaths in Spain. The US now has more confirmed cases than any other country – more than 335,000. Many of those who have died had underlying health conditions, which the coronavirus complicated.

More than 264,000 people are recorded as having recovered from the coronavirus.

GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, which combined have the largest vaccine manufacturing capability in the world, are working together on a high-tech vaccine, which they say could be in human trials within months.

The pairing of the two companies is significant because, if successful, they have the capacity to manufacture the hundreds of millions doses likely to be required on a global scale.

Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, said: “As the world faces this unprecedented global health crisis, it is clear that no one company can go it alone. That is why Sanofi is continuing to complement its expertise and resources with our peers, such as GSK, with the goal to create and supply sufficient quantities of vaccines that will help stop this virus.”

Emma Walmsley, CEO GSK, said: “This collaboration brings two of the world’s largest vaccines companies together. By combining our science and our technologies, we believe we can help accelerate the global effort to develop a vaccine to protect as many people as possible from Covid-19.”

Sanofi, which is headquartered in France, announced in February that it was entering the race to make a vaccine and has secured support from the US health department.

The British company, GSK, is already offering access to its technology to smaller teams, such as a vaccine effort at the University of Queensland, but this is the first collaboration that would have the ability to rapidly scale up manufacturing.

Two companies joining forces, rather than competing, in a vaccine effort is almost unprecedented, but the urgent need for a Covid-19 vaccine and the potential scale of the market is also not a typical situation.

The vaccine is based on an existing DNA-based technology that Sanofi uses to make its flu vaccine.

When the coronavirus invades the body, immune cells fight back by producing antibodies. These antibodies bind to specific structures on the foreign invader, called the antigen and in the case of Covid-19 the antigen is a spike-like protein on its exterior.

Sanofi has synthesized a stretch of DNA that encodes the genetic sequence of the spike protein. When this DNA is inserted into a harmless bacteria in the lab, it churns out little copies of the antigen – but not of the active coronavirus itself– which it hopes will trigger an antibody response, without causing illness.

GSK is contributing an add-on, known as an adjuvant, that can be mixed in with a vaccine to trigger a stronger immune reaction. This could potentially lower the dose required for each person by a factor of four, significantly boosting the speed at which doses can be produced.

The companies plan to start phase 1 clinical trials in the second half of this year and, if successful, say the vaccine could be widely available by the second half of 2021.


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