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COVID-19 vaccine: France's Sanofi to produce millions of Johnson & Johnson doses

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By Alice Tidey
The logo of French drug maker Sanofi is pictured at the company's headquarters, in Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.
The logo of French drug maker Sanofi is pictured at the company's headquarters, in Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Thibault Camus
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French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi announced on Monday that it will produce as many as 12 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.

With the firm's own jab delayed, it is the second such collaboration that Sanofi has agreed with others in the industry.

Johnson & Johnson requested authorisation for its vaccine in the EU earlier this month. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to approve it in mid-March.

Sanofi said in a statement on Monday, that once authorised, it will grant Johnson & Johnson access to its manufacturing plant in Marcy l'Etoile, near the French city of Lyon, to produce the single-dose vaccine "at a rate of approximately 12 million doses per month".

"Today's agreement is the second of its kind and demonstrates Sanofi's ongoing commitment to the collective effort to ending the crisis as quickly as possible," Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson, said.

"As such, without compromising other essential medicines and vaccines, and where we have the right manufacturing capabilities, we are stepping forward to show solidarity in the industry and continue doing our part for the fight against COVID-19," he added.

It comes a month after the French multinational said that from summer 2021, it will manufacture 125 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the European Union at its facilities in Frankfurt. The two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech jab was the first to be approved by the EMA and started being rolled out around the 27 countries of the bloc in late December.

Sanofi's latest announcement was welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron who wrote on Twitter: "We need to accelerate together the production of vaccines through industrial partnership."

"While continuing its research, Sanofi will take charge of several stages in the manufacture of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to respond rapidly to European and global demand," he added.

Sanofi also said on Monday that its own vaccine candidate developed with Britain's GlaxoSmithKline is entering Phase 2 trials. If results are positive, Phase II trials — during which the vaccine is tested on thousands of people — should start in the second quarter. This should make it available during the last quarter of the year.

The GSK-Sanofi vaccine was delayed with the two companies announcing in November that they needed to improve the immune response in older adults.

Thomas Triomphe, Sanofi's Executive Vice President, said on Monday that "over the past few weeks, our teams have worked to refine the antigen formulation of our recombinant-protein vaccine, based on learning from our initial Phase 1/2 study."

"We are confident that our vaccine candidate has strong potential and we are very encouraged by the latest preclinical data," he also said.