The share price of British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has gained just under 2% in trading today after the announcement the company is partnering with French peer Sanofi to develop and manufacture a coronavirus vaccine. Hundreds of millions of doses will be manufactured if clinical trials on humans planned for the second half of the year go to plan.
GSK has said that it will not profit from the vaccine, at least for the duration of the pandemic. Money made will be reinvested into “research and pandemic preparedness”, as well as donating the vaccine to the world’s poorest nations.
Emma Walmsley, GSK’s chief executive, commented on the unique tie-up with rival Sanofi, which she describes as “unprecedented”:
“We’re committed to making any vaccine that’s developed through the collaboration affordable to the public.”
GSK is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. Last year £7.2 billion of total sales of £33.8 billion were generated by the company’s vaccines division. Its biggest rivals in the vaccine sector are the American companies Pfizer and Merck…and France’s Sanofi.
Setting aside commercial rivalries will, however, hopefully accelerate the scaling of a Covid-19 vaccine quickly enough to tackle any future resurgence of the current pandemic. Under normal circumstances, developing a vaccine and gaining regulatory approval for its mass manufacture and distribution takes around a decade. But with time of the essence, Covid-19 vaccines are being fast tracked.
GSK’s contribution to the partnership with Sanofi is its adjuvant biotechnology, which boosts an antigen’s potency. Sanofi has a Covid-19 antigen – a kind of molecule that stimulates the production of antibodies.
Ms. Walmsley commented:
“We believe that if we’re successful we’ll be able to make hundreds of millions of doses annually by the end of next year.”
Elsewhere, another of the UK’s FTSE 100 pharmaceuticals giants, Astrazeneca, has said that it is pushing forward clinical trials of a blood cancer drug. The aim is to assess if it is, as suspected, a possible treatment for the “cytokine storm” that develops in the bodies of Covid-19 patients in cases where their immune system overreacts to the virus. It is hoped this would mean fewer coronavirus patients reaching the stage they need to go onto ventilators.
There are currently a total of 70 Covid-19 vaccines in development. The biggest issue is not whether vaccines will be available but gaining approval for them and scaling production and distribution quickly.