Forget the competition. Sanofi still plans to usher its COVID-19 shot across the finish line

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Sanofi is still planning a phase 3 test for its COVID-19 vaccine program, execs said. (Sanofi on Flickr)

One of the top vaccine players opted to call it quits on its COVID-19 research after delays and setbacks. There are plenty of options already on the market or close to it.

But not Sanofi.

The French drugmaker and its partner GlaxoSmithKline, two of the world's top vaccine makers, expect phase 2 data on their recombinant protein-based shot in just a few weeks. If the data are positive, they plan to launch a phase 3 study immediately, Sanofi vaccine chief Thomas Triomphe said on a Wednesday conference call.

And if all goes well, a Sanofi/GSK shot could be ready to roll out late this year or early next, execs said.

As long as the pandemic is “not solved,” Sanofi will be “fully in” on its COVID-19 vaccine research, Triomphe said Wednesday. The drugmaker figures booster shots will be required in 2022, and Sanofi “will be there” to help with its vaccine, he added.

If Sanofi’s shot succeeds in its current round of testing, it could find some use as part of the global immunization effort. But it will join numerous other shots already amassing data and gaining familiarity among doctors and health officials.

Sanofi is betting on its shot as several other vaccines are well into the distribution process—and more are nearing launches. Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are all working with partners to produce as many doses as possible after posting positive data and scoring regulatory authorizations. Novavax and CureVac are also eying potential market debuts in May and June, respectively. 

Plus, vaccines from Chinese companies—and Russia’s Sputnik V—are already being delivered in many countries. 

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

All along, Sanofi executives have maintained that the company’s shot would help fulfill global demand—even if it wasn’t the fastest program through the clinic. In fact, on the same December day that Pfizer’s mRNA shot won an emergency FDA authorization, Sanofi and GSK said weak trial data in older adults had forced them to go back to the drawing board. 

That setback led to a months-long delay, and the partners re-entered midstage testing in February.

Sanofi and GSK aren’t alone in hitting setbacks during the research process. Merck exited the COVID-19 vaccine research field altogether back in January after weak data plagued its programs. That drugmaker is now focusing on its antiviral drug candidate molnupiravir.  

On the mRNA front, Sanofi also has a program in phase 1/2 testing with Translate Bio. Data for that trial are expected in the third quarter of 2021, execs said Wednesday.  

RELATED: Sanofi inks 3rd COVID-19 vaccine production pact, this time helping Moderna with fill and finish work 

Meanwhile, Sanofi is also helping to produce proven vaccines. The drugmaker has inked partnerships to help manufacture shots from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and, most recently, Moderna. 

So far, more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed worldwide, Bloomberg reports. Still, at the current pace, the news service says it will take more than 19 months to vaccinate 75% of the world’s population.