COVID Vaccine Setback for Sanofi Prompts Russia to Offer Help: 'Together We Are Stronger'

The developer of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine has offered to help French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi and its British collaborator GlaxoSmithKline after they had a setback with their own experimental candidate.

On Friday, Sanofi said the novel coronavirus vaccine they were developing with GlaxoSmithKline did not trigger a sufficient immune response in older adults, according to data from clinical trials.

Following the emergence of the news, the developers of the Russian vaccine tweeted via the Sputnik V account: "#SputnikV is willing to share its technology with Sanofi @sanofi and GSK @GSK to help in developing their next vaccine. A partnership of different producers is the way of the future. Together we are stronger."

The Sputnik V vaccine has been developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which operates under the purview of the Russian Ministry of Health.

The Sputnik V vaccine was approved for distribution in Russia in August 2020, despite the fact the shot had only been tested on a small number of people in early-stage clinical trials.

Sanofi said in a statement on Friday that interim results from a Phase I/II clinical trial showed an "immune response comparable to patients who recovered from COVID-19 in adults aged 18 to 49 years, but a low immune response in older adults likely due to an insufficient concentration of the antigen."

Antigens are molecules that are capable of stimulating an immune response in the body.

Sanofi and GSK are now working to improve the immune response of the vaccine—which is based on more conventional technology than the shots produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—in older adults.

#SputnikV is willing to share its technology with Sanofi @sanofi and GSK @GSK to help in developing their next vaccine. A partnership of different producers is the way of the future. Together we are stronger.

— Sputnik V (@sputnikvaccine) December 11, 2020

Phase III clinical trials of the Sanofi/GSK vaccine were due to start in December, with the hope that the vaccine could be rolled out in the first half of 2021. But the latest setback could delay the roll out of the vaccine—if it is approved by regulators—until the second half of next year.

Sanofi said it would carry out a Phase II study with an improved antigen formula in February, 2021, with a Phase III clinical trial hopefully following in the second quarter of 2021.

Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and head of Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, said in a statement: "We care greatly about public health which is why we are disappointed by the delay announced today, but all our decisions are and will always be driven by science and data."

"We have identified the path forward and remain confident and committed to bringing a safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccine."

Sanofi is also developing another COVID-19 vaccine with American firm Translate Bio, which is based on new mRNA technology, just like the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots. mRNA vaccines insert tiny fragments of genetic code from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, into the body, enabling the immune system to build up defense against the disease.

The offer from the Sputnik V team came the day that British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said it would look into combining its experimental COVID-19 vaccine—being developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford—with the Russian vaccine.

Last month, the Russian developers suggested on Twitter that AstraZeneca should try the combination, arguing that it could improve effectiveness. Both the Russian and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines are based on modified common cold viruses.

Sanofii COVID-19 vaccine candidate
This illustration picture taken on November 23, 2020 shows a bottle reading "Vaccine COVID-19" and a syringe next to the Sanofi logo. Sanofi has said its COVID vaccine demonstrated an insufficient immune response in older adults. JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images