Sanofi enlists for top Army hospital’s fight against Zika virus

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Lending its vaccines expertise to a leading Zika candidate, Sanofi ($SNY) has teamed up with the U.S. Army’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to guide an inactivated Zika vaccine candidate through clinical development.

Through the partnership, WRAIR will transfer its Zika vaccine technology--dubbed Zika purified inactivated virus (ZPIV)--to Sanofi while the French pharma preps for Phase II testing and formulates an overall development strategy. Simultaneously, the WRAIR-partnered National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will sponsor a Phase I trial as the vaccine becomes one of the first to reach the human testing stage.

Sanofi will continue to develop its own Zika vaccine through in-house technology, hoping to leverage decades of experience in dengue fever, a flavivirus similar to Zika. Sanofi’s Dengvaxia became the first licensed dengue fever vaccine late last year and has so far notched 5 approvals.

In Zika, the company is “looking at this from both a short- and long-term perspective, collaborating to get into the clinic quicker to provide a vaccine in response to the current emergency, and adapting our own technology to ensure production capacity of a vaccine for years to come,” Sanofi Pasteur SVP of R&D John Shiver said in a statement.

Last month, WRAIR reported that two candidates--one a DNA vaccine and another an inactivated Zika vaccine--it tested with collaborators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center protected mice that were exposed to the virus. WRAIR elected to move forward with the ZPIV candidate, Zika program head Col. Stephen Thomas said, to avoid the potential for licensing delays that could come with advancing an unproven technology.

With its Sanofi partnership, WRAIR and its U.S. government collaborators get access to new resources in a deal that could reshape the Zika vaccines field. Also racing in the effort is Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO), which last month became the first to move its candidate into human trials; more than a dozen other companies and organizations are involved in the effort.

Sanofi is the largest drugmaker working on a Zika vaccine, with its peers Merck ($MRK), Pfizer ($PFE), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) evaluating their options, according to past reports. However, some experts have suggested that drugmakers are hesitant to fully commit to Zika  R&D while they wait to see if there’s a large enough market for a vaccine to recoup its costs.

- here's Sanofi's release
- and WRAIR's statement on its testing

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