Sanofi spends $425M to double down on Translate Bio mRNA pact, eyes Q4 COVID-19 vax start

Sanofi Pasteur is betting big on its pact with mRNA biotech Translate Bio as it deepens its ties and commitment to infectious disease vaccines using this new tech.

As the world continues to battle against COVID-19 and hundreds of biopharmas, Sanofi one of the top among them, partner up to find drugs and inoculations against the virus, the French Big Pharma is seeing the need for infectious disease vaccines.

This was once the non-profit-making and certainly more rudimentary and boring part of biopharma R&D, but with the scourge of SARS-CoV-2 and how quickly it has killed nearly half a million people and infected more than 8 million worldwide, the need for continual innovation in vaccination research for infectious diseases has never been clearer.

Today, and as part of its R&D day, Sanofi is doubling down on its 2018 pact with Translate Bio for exactly this reason. Almost two years ago, the pair penned an $805 million deal, worth just $45 million upfront with the rest heavily backloaded, which saw the companies work together advance to mRNA vaccines under an initial three-year agreement.

Now, Sanofi is paying substantially more upfront: $300 million in cash and $125 million in an equity investment, with a major $1.9 billion in biobucks also locked into the deal. This comes on top of the deal signed in March between the pair to work on a new vaccine for COVID-19.

Under the updated pact, Translate Bio is using its mRNA platform to discover, design and manufacture vaccine candidates, and Sanofi Pasteur, the pharma’s vaccines unit, is providing its “deep vaccine expertise to advance vaccine candidates into and through further development,” according to a statement.

Translate Bio will also transfer technology and processes to allow Sanofi Pasteur to develop and manufacture mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases.

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The partners are currently looking at “multiple” COVID-19 vaccine candidates in vivo for immunogenicity and neutralizing antibody activity as they seek to tap a leading asset, with the goal of starting a first-in-human clinical trial in the fourth quarter.

This puts it behind its rival mRNA players Moderna—which is already setting up a phase 3 for this summer and is leading the pack—as well as Pfizer-partnered BioNTech, which started trials in April, and German government-backed CureVac, which started clinical tests this month.

The companies are also pushing on outside COVID-19, including mRNA vaccines against influenza through preclinical studies with clinical trial initiation anticipated in midyear 2021. The collab also includes another viral pathogen and a bacterial pathogen.

“As all eyes are on prevention of infectious disease through vaccines, this is a pointed moment in time where we are called upon to seek innovative ways to protect public health,” said Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president at Sanofi Pasteur. “We are excited by the novel technology and expertise Translate Bio brings, and we believe that adding this mRNA platform to our vaccines development capabilities will help us advance prevention against current and future infectious diseases.”

Sanofi is also working on more traditional vaccine approaches outside of mRNA, which has never received a vaccine approval before, including its April deal with rival British Big Pharma GlaxoSmithKline that sees Sanofi chipping in an S-protein COVID-19 antigen based on recombinant DNA tech, while GSK is contributing its pandemic adjuvant technology.

Ronald Renaud, CEO of Translate Bio, added: “The expansion of our collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur validates the progress we’ve made in the development of mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases since our work together began in 2018 and also speaks to the potential of our mRNA platform. We are excited to work with Sanofi in this broadened capacity with the goal of ultimately delivering vaccines on a global scale, a need underscored by the current pandemic.

“Translate Bio will also be well positioned financially to continue to build upon our internal capabilities with a focus on advancing innovations in platform discovery and on the development of ongoing and additional preclinical therapeutic programs as we aim to bring multiple programs towards clinical development.”