While the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi has pleaded for a cooperation agreement with an American health authority, many voices were raised to condemn the position of the laboratory.
On Wednesday May 13, Sanofi announced that in the event of a discovery of a vaccine against the Coronavirus, the French company would give priority … to Americans.
As a reminder, in a barely disguised diss to the French government, the boss of Sanofi said because the US government has “invested to help mitigate the risk,” Sanofi plans to supply the United States first when a Covid-19 vaccine is found.
Immediately after the interview appeared, Sanofi hurried to limit the damage however: “The vaccine against Covid-19 will be made available to all citizens, regardless of their nationality,” the company announced on Twitter.
Pharmaceutical giant chief executive Paul Hudson – a British citizen – explained the surrealist move by saying that the United States “shares the risk” of research conducted through a partnership. The US government “has the right to the biggest pre-orders,” said Hudson to the Bloomberg news agency. “I campaigned in Europe to say that the United States will get the vaccines first. This is how it is because they invested to try to protect their population, to restart their economy.”
The French Ministry of Economy said it was “very surprised by this statement”.
Questioned by the media, Serge Weinberg, the chairman of the board of directors of the Sanofi laboratory, however, tried to put an end to the controversy: “I will be extremely clear: there will be no particular advance from any country.”
But Weinberg only stepped in after a flood of public outrage condemning the position of the French laboratory. A future vaccine developed only for profit would be “unacceptable,” AFP news agency quoted a senior official from the Ministry of Health in Paris, visibly irritated.
“Sanofi must be vaccinated against stupidity,” the mayor of Béziers Robert Ménard responded. In a statement relayed by BFMTV, his parliamentary group stressed that “the unworthiness of the Sanofi laboratory has no limits” and “illustrates once again that laboratories have nothing to do with general public interest”.
“The declaration of the boss of Sanofi has greatly moved the President of the Republic,” the Elysée Palace commented disingenuously “because this vaccine must be a global public good” governed by the laws of the market since the vaccine “must be available for all and at the same time”.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who spoke with the president of Sanofi on Thursday, for his part affirmed that “the equal access of all to the vaccine is not negotiable”.
The US government continues to focus on promoting individual projects around the world, to primarily benefit US citizens. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), is an important instrument in this. The agency, which reports to the US Department of Health, invests in research into vaccines that are classified as particularly promising, but in return requires that part of the development, manufacture, and sale take place in the United States.
For example, BARDA had already signed an agreement with Sanofi for a vaccine against influenza. With the outbreak of the pandemic, this program was expanded to include Covid-19.
According to Sanofi boss Hudson, BARDA has so far subsidized the French company in the fight against Covid-19 with some 28 million euros, a comparatively modest sum. The US biotech company Moderna, which has been very far ahead in the global race for a vaccine against the new Coronavirus, is said to have received around 450 million euros in support from BARDA in February.
Sanofi, one of the top four vaccine manufacturers worldwide, also recently partnered with UK rival GlaxoSmithKline to develop a common vaccine. Another promising vaccine program, which is already in clinical trials, is currently being developed in the laboratories of Oxford University and the British company AstraZeneca. Its chief executive Pascal Soriot is said to have already made it clear that in the event of success, care will be given to the UK.
In contrast, the German biotech company Biontech and its US cooperation partner Pfizer emphasized that there is no agreement with BARDA and that if successful, no individual country would benefit. Mainz-based Biontech is one of the few companies worldwide that can already test its own vaccine candidate on humans.
Biontech boss Ugur Sahin recently clarified in an interview with German daily Die Welt that he regards the search for a vaccine against Covid-19 as a human project: “This is a global crisis, so we need global cooperation. It must be clear to everyone that this should not be lip service.”
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