Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline say their COVID-19 vaccine triggers a strong immune response, bolstering the late-comer program’s potential as a booster shot

FILE PHOTO: Paul Hudson, chief executive officer of Sanofi, poses during the annual results news conference in Paris, France, February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson

  • Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said that their experimental COVID-19 vaccine succeeded in a mid-stage trial.
  • The pharma giants plan to launch a pivotal-stage study with 35,000 volunteers in the coming weeks.
  • The shot suffered from disappointing data and delays in 2020. The companies now hope for approval by year’s end.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

One of the world’s most closely watched coronavirus vaccine programs reported positive data on Monday from a mid-stage clinical trial, paving the way for the start of a massive human trial that could allow the shot to be authorized before the end of this year.

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, two of the largest vaccine-makers in the world, said in a press release that their experimental coronavirus vaccine led to strong immune responses across all ages in a study that enrolled 722 volunteers. It’s a much-needed piece of positive news for the two industry leaders, which saw their vaccine effort delayed by disappointing data announced in December, and have fallen far behind rivals like Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson.

Read more: GlaxoSmithKline stumbled with COVID-19 shots. Now it’s facing an exodus of US talent and an uncertain future as the world’s vaccine leader.

The companies did not release specific data on the antibody response, nor did they publish results in a peer-reviewed medical journal or post a paper on a preprint server.

Emma Walmsley
GSK CEO Emma Walmsley

Instead, the companies issued a press release describing the neutralizing antibody responses as “comparable to those generated by natural infection.”

Neutralizing antibodies are the virus-fighting proteins that play a critical role in our immune response. GSK and Sanofi added that younger volunteers had generally stronger immune responses to the vaccine.

The two pharma giants expect to launch a final-stage clinical study, called a Phase 3 trial, in the coming weeks that will enroll more than 35,000 people. They also plan to simultaneously run smaller studies that test their vaccine, including versions tailored to neutralize specific coronavirus variants, as booster shots in people who’ve already been immunized.

If everything goes to plan, Sanofi and GSK expect their vaccine to be approved in October, November, or December of 2021, the companies said.

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GSK climbs 6% on report of Elliot Management’s multibillion stake

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The GlaxoSmithKline building is pictured in Hounslow, west London, Britain, in this June 18, 2013.

  • GSK rose 6% on Thursday after Elliott Management took a multibillion-pound stake in the company.
  • The “significant” investment was confirmed by exclusive sources to the Financial Times.
  • Elliott enters the picture amid GSK’s struggle rebuild itself after a falling behind in the COVID-19 vaccine race.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell

Shares of GlaxoSmithKline rose 6% on Thursday after reports of hedge fund Elliott Management taking a multi-billion pound stake at the British pharmaceutical firm.

GSK rose to a high of $38.24, its highest price since January 28. It was last at $38.04 around 10:22 a.m. ET, up around 5.3%.

The “significant” investment was confirmed by exclusive sources to the Financial Times Thursday.

Elliott, the $42 billion hedge fund known for its activist campaigns, enters the picture at a time when GSK is struggling to overcome a bruised reputation. The pharmaceutical company has failed to keep up in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, losing out to rivals with far less experience.

To date, GSK’s vaccine unit has yet to develop a coronavirus shot, according to an Insider exclusive, despite helping the world address the crises of H1N1 and Ebola viruses years back. At least three dozen employees have departed from one of its key centers since the pandemic began, Insider found.

Elliot’s investment also comes after the GSK CEO Dame Emma Walmsley decided to narrow the company’s research focus to immunology by combining the pharmaceutical and vaccine units. Walmsley, who lacks an extensive scientific background, took the helm from Andrew Witty in 2017.

Elliott has launched dozens of activist campaigns at companies across the world, especially in the health sector. It was founded by billionaire Paul Singer in 1977.

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GSK and CureVac are making ‘next-generation’ vaccines that they say can tackle multiple COVID-19 variants at once

Netherlands Pfizer Vaccine Rollout
A healthcare worker in the Netherlands is given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on January 6.

  • GlaxoSmithKline and CureVac have agreed to develop new vaccines that target multiple coronavirus variants.
  • The shots, designed as boosters in case immunity from another vaccine drops, could be available 2022.
  • Research suggests existing vaccines may be less effective against some coronavirus variants.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

UK pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and German biotech CureVac plan to co-develop “next generation” vaccines that could work against multiple coronavirus variants at once, the companies announced Wednesday.

The vaccines could be available in 2022, subject to authorization, and could work as a booster if immunity from another vaccine wanes, or for people who haven’t yet been immunized, the companies said.

Research suggests existing vaccines – such as those made by Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna – may be less effective against contagious coronavirus variants with certain mutations.

The companies are investing €150 million ( $180 million) in the tie-up.

The vaccines will be mRNA vaccines, which use a genetic code to trigger the body’s immune response. The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the US, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, use the same technology. 

Existing shots are good at protecting against the original virus, but lab-based studies suggest they may not work so well against the more contagious variants, especially against a mutation found in the variant from South Africa. 

Pfizer said January 26 that it is already working on booster shots that protect against coronavirus variants. Moderna said January 25 that it would develop a new version of its COVID-19 shot to fight 501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa.

The mutation scientists believe helps the variant in South Africa escape antibodies, and could cause current vaccines to be less effective, has been detected in the variant found in the UK too.

UK pharma giant GSK already had a stake in CureVac, a German biotech specialized in mRNA technology that went public in August 2020. 

“This new collaboration builds on our existing relationship with CureVac and means that together, we will combine our scientific expertise in mRNA and vaccine development to advance and accelerate the development of new COVID-19 vaccine candidates,” Dame Emma Walmsley, chief executive officer at GSK, said.

GSK will also support the manufacture of up to 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine already developed by CureVac, called CVNCoV, in 2021. 

CVNCoV is in late-stage clinical trials.

GSK and Curevac said they plan to develop mRNA vaccines to protect against other illnesses that cause breathing problems too.

“With the help of GSK’s proven vaccine expertise, we are equipping ourselves to tackle future health challenges with novel vaccines,” Franz-Werner Haas, chief executive at CureVac said.

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