After Pfizer deal, Sanofi offers a hand to Johnson & Johnson for COVID-19 vaccine production

Sanofi hasn't abandoned its COVID-19 vaccine hopes despite a setback in the high-stakes race, but as it moves two different shots forward, it's also pitching in to make doses for its usual rivals.

The drugmaker on Monday inked a manufacturing tie-up with Johnson & Johnson to help produce that company’s vaccine in Europe. The deal follows a separate agreement for Sanofi to turn out 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Europe this year. 

When J&J's one-dose-and-done vaccine scores an authorization, Sanofi will give the company access to its plant in Marcy l’Etoile, France. Workers there will formulate the J&J vaccine and fill vials, and the site will turn out around 12 million doses per month, Sanofi said. 

The deal “demonstrates Sanofi’s ongoing commitment to the collective effort to ending this crisis as quickly as possible,” CEO Paul Hudson said in a statement. 

Johnson & Johnson has completed a massive phase 3 trial for its vaccine and submitted the program to regulators in the U.S. and Europe. The shot is up for an FDA advisory committee vote on Friday, and the agency will release comments from its own reviewers ahead of that meeting.

RELATED: Sanofi, after R&D setback, lends a hand to vaccine rival Pfizer for coronavirus shot production 

Also Monday, Sanofi and its partner GSK started a new phase 2 study of their shot—which combines GSK's adjuvant with Sanofi's recombinant protein-based vaccine—with an “improved antigen formulation."

Previously, weak midstage data forced the partners to go back to the drawing board. If the vaccine succeeds in this follow-up study, the companies could start a phase 3 trial in the second quarter. Shots could be available later this year if all goes smoothly. 

Aside from that program, Sanofi and Translate Bio are working on an mRNA vaccine candidate slated to enter a phase 1/2 trial by the end of March. 

While many experts thought Sanofi, GSK and another top vaccine giant, Merck & Co., would play a major role in the global immunization push, those companies have faced setbacks or left the field altogether. Instead, Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, J&J and Novavax are lined up to lead distribution this year, and analysts see multibillion-dollar sales prospects for each of those companies. 

RELATED: Vaccine manufacturing greenhorn Bayer to make 160M doses of CureVac's COVID-19 shot 

The urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic has spawned numerous partnerships among Big Pharma companies—including Sanofi’s vaccine tie-up with GSK—that might otherwise be rivals in normal circumstances.  

Amgen, for instance, made a deal to help produce Eli Lilly antibody doses, and Roche agreed to help with Regeneron’s antibody manufacturing. Bayer, which has never produced vaccines in its nearly 160-year history, earlier this month signed up to manufacture doses for CureVac’s mRNA program. And Novartis signed up to help produce Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine doses.