The head of one of the world’s biggest vaccine companies says Europe needs to wake up to the challenge of manufacturing enough coronavirus shots to halt the pandemic.
As others squabble over the timing and details of how to develop such a vaccine, Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson points further ahead to the continent’s ability to produce enough to meet demand.
“There is less concern about finding a successful vaccine than there is about making the volumes needed,” Hudson told reporters on Friday. “The biggest untold story in Europe right now is the one about the number of doses.”
Sanofi is working with rival GlaxoSmithKline Plc to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus, racing against other pharma giants such as Johnson & Johnson as well as nimbler biotechs such as Moderna Inc. Most of them aim to deliver a shot sometime next year.
The U.S. may be in a position to vaccinate first, according to Hudson, thanks to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a government agency that backs vaccine development. There’s no similar coordination in Europe.
“We don’t want to get to next summer and not have enough vaccines for Europe,” Hudson said.
‘You Can’t Wait’
Sanofi has made proposals to major countries and the European Commission to address the manufacturing challenge, he said, without elaborating. The production push needs to begin soon to ensure enough shots, he said. If data were to come in June of next year, “you can’t wait until June to start manufacturing,” he said. “You have to start manufacturing in January.”
The U.K.’s Wellcome Trust has said that about $8 billion would be required this month to fund the development of drugs, vaccines and other tools to fight the virus. It will take considerably more than that to manufacture enough doses to meet global demand and ensure no one is left behind, the organization’s officials told reporters earlier this week.
“We need to start building new manufacturing sites now, rather than when it’s clear that a vaccine candidate is safe and effective,” Charlie Weller, Wellcome’s head of vaccines, said on a call. “We need to accept that some of these sites will be created for vaccines that will ultimately fail.”
Sanofi jumped into the fray in February, teaming up with BARDA and betting that earlier work in pursuit of a SARS vaccine could accelerate the effort. Dozens of candidates are being developed in nations from the U.S. to China. Among those that have already begun human testing are experimental vaccines from CanSino Biologics Inc., Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Moderna.
The volumes of vaccines required to fight Covid-19 are beyond the reach of many smaller companies and partnerships, according to Hudson. Sanofi’s and Glaxo’s efforts combined, he said, are “the best shot Europe has.”