A lab technician prepares tanks used to help manufacture vaccines at Sanofi’s plant near Paris
A lab technician at Sanofi’s plant near Paris. The drugmaker says its priority remains bringing its own Covid-19 vaccines to market © Joel Saget/AFP/Getty

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French drugmaker Sanofi has announced a deal of up to $1.45bn to buy UK biotech Kymab and confirmed it is studying the possibility of helping manufacture rival Covid-19 vaccines after delays in developing its own jab. 

The acquisition is the fourth since Paul Hudson took over as chief executive at the French pharmaceutical group in September 2019, and advances his strategy of pushing Sanofi further into the fast-growing market for treatments for immune disorders.

Mr Hudson has promised a three-year overhaul to cut €2bn in costs by 2022 and to deploy more resources to growth areas such as oncology, rare diseases and immunology, while ending research into diabetes and heart disease.

Cambridge-based Kymab is studying the use of a new monoclonal antibody drug known as KY1005 for the treatment of eczema, a skin condition.

Separately on Monday, Sanofi also confirmed that it was studying the “technical feasibility” of using its manufacturing capacity to help make Covid-19 vaccines for other pharmaceutical companies whose jabs are further along in development.

French industry minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told Europe1 radio on Friday that the government had asked Sanofi to examine whether a “technology transfer” via some sort of contract manufacturing agreement was possible.

Such a move could help boost production of much-needed inoculations as the pandemic continues to rage in Europe. As vaccination campaigns get under way, concerns have emerged about how to secure enough doses for everyone who needs them.

Three other French contract manufacturers had already been enlisted to help make Covid-19 jabs, the minister added: Recipharm for Moderna, Delpharm for BioNTech/Pfizer and Fareva for CureVac. “We are working on it,” she said of enlisting Sanofi to help.

Sanofi declined to comment on which vaccine it might help produce, saying only: “At this stage, it is still very preliminary, as manufacturing technologies are very specific to each vaccine.”

Sanofi said its priority remained bringing its own Covid-19 vaccines to market. It has one based on new mRNA technology, in partnership with Translate Bio, and another based on traditional vaccine technology with GlaxoSmithKline.

But the group suffered a major setback in December when the latter failed to show sufficient efficacy in older people because of a dosing error in a clinical trial. The mishap has delayed the expected launch to the last quarter of 2021, instead of mid-year as previously hoped.

The US government has selected Sanofi/GSK’s vaccine for its Operation Warp Speed vaccine development programme, providing up to $2.1bn funding to the company, and the EU has ordered 300m doses.

The vaccine candidate being developed with Translate Bio has not yet begun to be tested in humans, although early-stage studies in animals have shown it spurs the creation of antibodies against Sars-Cov-2.

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