Sanofi grabs $43M in U.S. government funds to advance Zika vaccine into Phase II

Sanofi's headquarters in Paris

Just months after signing on with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to develop a Zika vaccine, Sanofi Pasteur won a $43 million vote of confidence from the U.S. government’s BARDA to advance the work.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) shelled out to fund Phase II development of Sanofi's candidate vaccine, dubbed Zika purified inactivated virus (ZPIV). If the Phase II testing is successful, BARDA could advance another $130 million for follow-up studies, the agency said.

Sanofi Pasteur will now scale up the vaccine for its midstage trials, expected to begin in the first half of 2018, according to a release. Additionally, the money will support manufacturing of a vaccine "that could help prevent Zika virus infection and the devastating birth defects that Zika virus can cause," BARDA acting director Dr. Richard Hatchett said in a statement.

BARDA, along with the Walter Reed institute and the National Institutes of Health, started working on the candidate in March. Sanofi signed on in July, hoping to lend its vaccine development prowess to the global hunt for a Zika vaccine.

Since the Zika virus exploded onto the global scene last year, dozens of companies and organizations have signed on to test a range of vaccine approaches.

BARDA has played an important role in the fight. Last week, the agency said it would collaborate with Japan's Takeda on its approach to a vaccine, in a deal potentially worth $312 million. The first tranche of the agreement will allocate $19.8 million for Takeda to complete preclinical work and vaccine development through Phase I.

Also this month, BARDA awarded Cambridge, MA’s Moderna a potential $125 million for Zika vaccine work.

Overall, the U.S. government has tended to pick large players as its partners in Zika vaccine R&D. Following Sanofi’s announcement with the Walter Reed institute in July, GlaxoSmithKline announced it was working with the NIH on a Zika project that will use self-amplifying mRNA, or SAM.

As of this month, BARDA has dedicated $433 million in funds to fight the flavivirus, which is now known to cause microcephaly and is suspected to be linked to other maladies such as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Sanofi is in the midst of launching Dengvaxia, a vaccine against another mosquito-borne flavivirus in dengue. It spent 20 years and $1.5 billion to develop that shot.

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