Sanofi researcher warns against overconfidence on coronavirus vaccine

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A vaccine researcher who attended the White House’s meeting on Monday with pharmaceutical companies told CNBC it’s important to temper expectations around a coronavirus vaccine. 

“We think there are good tools and approaches at hand that will find success, but we should not be too overconfident that this can happen quickly,” Dr. John Shiver, Sanofi Pasteur’s senior vice president of global vaccine research and development, said on “Closing Bell.”

Shiver’s comments came shortly after President Donald Trump met with pharmaceutical executives to discuss progress on treatments for the coronavirus. Shiver said he heard from fellow meeting participants that “a lot of progress has been made early on.” 

U.S. health officials, working alongside drugmakers, are accelerating development on a possible vaccine for the virus, which has now infected more than 89,100 people and killed at least 3,040 worldwide. The hope is to start human trials in five to six weeks.

No proven therapies currently exist for the latest outbreak, which has continued to spread in the U.S. At least six people in Washington state have died from the virus. 

Sanofi Pasteur is the global vaccines business unit of Sanofi, a Paris, France-based pharmaceutical company. Sanofi Pasteur is working alongside the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a coronavirus vaccine. 

Researchers will be able to develop a therapeutic — a way to treat people who are already sick — for the coronavirus faster than a vaccine, Shiver explained. 

A therapeutic could be developed in “months or a very short amount of time, a year or so,” he said. “Vaccines typically take longer.” 

Sanofi Pasteur is using its technology around recombinant DNA — a variety of DNA created by merging the genetic material of different organisms — to develop a potential vaccine, Shiver said. 

He said the company uses it to make its flu vaccine. He added that if its efforts on a COVID-19 vaccine prove successful, the company’s existing infrastructure could allow it to produce “100 to 600 million doses of vaccine.” 

Shiver, who previously led vaccine research at Merck, said the different approaches taken by biotech company Moderna, among others, may end up in clinical trial faster than Sanofi Pasteur. 

Sanofi Pasteur is hoping its vaccine could be in the clinic “within a year or so and hopefully move quickly into development past that towards a product,” Shiver said. 

He added the pharmaceutical companies working to treat the coronavirus have all “showed a spirit of [cooperation] and collegiality.” 

“It’s great that new and multiple technologies are being tried,” Shiver said. “The more approaches being tried will increase our chances of success.” 

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