Multiple COVID-19 vaccines? That's what it could take, GSK CEO Walmsley says

Biopharma companies and researchers worldwide are working on potential COVID-19 vaccines, and GSK CEO Emma Walmsley believes that multiple groups could succeed. (GSK on Flickr)

Amid global COVID-19 lockdowns, the race for a vaccine has attracted daily attention as many experts see an immunization as a requirement to restarting society. While GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi made headlines Tuesday with their vaccine tie-up, GSK CEO Emma Walmsley said she hopes—and thinks—more than one group will succeed.

"We’re all hoping and we believe the world is going to need more than one vaccine as part of the solution," Walmsley said on a Tuesday conference call with reporters. Her comments followed the unveiling of GlaxoSmithKline’s unprecedented partnership with fellow vaccine giant Sanofi, under which the companies hope to be ready to launch a vaccine next year. 

Dozens of biopharma companies, academic researchers and nonprofits have committed resources to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, which has spread worldwide and caused 2 million infections. 

And Walmsley isn't alone in believing multiple vaccines could succeed. On a FiercePharma virtual panel last month, NuGenerex Immuno-Oncology chief scientific officer Eric von Hofe said it’s “not at all unlikely” the world could see multiple vaccines approved.

“By definition, a pandemic spans multiple different regulatory jurisdictions,” he said. “A lot of different countries are going to have their own approach in terms of what they want to see in a vaccine.” 

As the process plays out, experts are “going to be getting a lot of new information” about how the various vaccines stack up, he said, which will guide regulatory decisions. 

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In all, there are 71 preclinical vaccine programs underway, while six projects have reached phase 1 and one is in phase 2, according to a tracker from the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. 

China’s CanSino Bio recently moved to phase 2, while Moderna, Inovio and others have started early human testing, according to the tracker. As for Big Pharma, many of the industry’s top companies are involved. Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Pfizer and GSK and are among those putting resources into the hunt for a vaccine.