Sanofi chose a proven platform over speed in its COVID-19 vaccine hunt, CEO says

Several COVID-19 vaccine candidates are racing ahead at unprecedented speeds, with some set to enter late-stage testing this summer. That group doesn’t include Sanofi, which is less worried about being first to market and is instead focusing on using proven technology, CEO Paul Hudson said Monday. 

Moving quickly has “two downsides,” Hudson said on a call with reporters. Companies at the front of the race are using “existing work,” in some cases done for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). He has concerns over efficacy for the frontrunners, and added there’s “no guarantee” of being able to supply those candidates in large volumes. 

Sanofi, however, is advancing the “only vaccine in the race that’s off a proven platform that works at scale,” Hudson said on the call.

When the company jumped into the vaccine race, it didn't intend to be a frontrunner, Hudson said. The company knows it “can’t move much faster than the biology" around its process. Still, Hudson sees a better chance of success in Sanofi’s program than with others racing ahead.  

Sanofi has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline on a protein subunit vaccine program to be combined with GSK's adjuvant. The program hasn’t yet entered human testing, but Sanofi execs say it could be available next summer. Meanwhile, the company is also advancing an mRNA shot with Translate Bio. 

RELATED: After Operation Warp Speed picks 5 finalists, experts question why some vaccines were left out 

Elsewhere in the industry, frontrunners Moderna and AstraZeneca are advancing mRNA and non-replicating virus vector programs, respectively. Those candidates have entered mid-stage testing, with phase 3 trials planned for this summer. The companies are taking steps to deliver doses by later this year if all goes well.

Earlier this month, after the New York Times reported five finalists for the United States’ Operation Warp Speed program—a list that didn’t include Sanofi—some experts wondered publicly why the officials didn’t select any proven platforms. Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, for one, questioned why Sanofi and Novavax weren’t included. 

In the end, Hudson said he’d be “happy” for another company to win the COVID-19 vaccine race and deliver billions of doses, but he added there's a "high chance" those programs will run into setbacks. Sanofi expects its doses will be needed "either way," he added.