Taiwan should protect its vaccine supply chain and invest in vaccine development after seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted tremendous social and economic losses worldwide, Sanofi Pasteur Hong Kong & Taiwan general manager Philip Ho said in an interview this week.
“When you look at the trillions of dollars that countries have lost, parents who are forced to stay at home with their children and various restrictions imposed following a nationwide lockdown, we really see what we are losing compared with what we can benefit from vaccination,” Ho said.
While the government has been trying to secure vaccines since the middle of last year, supply was strained as some nations had purchased in advance far more vaccines than they could ever need, he said.
Photo courtesy of Sanofi Taiwan Co Ltd
Sanofi has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline PLC to develop a new COVID-19 vaccine using recombinant proteins. The vaccine is in phase 3 clinical trials in which the developers have set a goal of vaccinating 35,000 people worldwide.
“We expect to have the first read of the results in the latter half of this year, which means we could potentially have emergency use authorization for the recombinant protein vaccine toward the end of this year, both in Europe and the US,” Ho said.
The company is also conducting a phase 1/2 trial of a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine that it has developed with Translate Bio Inc, with the results scheduled to be released this quarter or next quarter, he said.
Sanofi last month launched the mRNA Center of Excellence and is committed to investing about 400 million euros (US$471 million) per year in the research and development of next-generation vaccines using mRNA technology.
“The virus is going to continue to evolve. The question is how much protection people who were vaccinated against the original COVID-19 strain have against variants. As an industry, as a company, what we have to be aware of is that we have to move as the virus mutates,” Ho said.
Developing booster vaccines, or second-generation vaccines, would be key to containing the spread of variants of SARS-CoV-2 in developing nations, where vaccination rates remain low, he said.
Ho, who is to work in Sanofi’s global vaccine public affairs team in France next month, was deeply involved in the nation’s immunization programs during his four years in Taiwan, working with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration to transition from trivalent influenza vaccine (TIV) to quadrivalent influenza vaccine (QIV) in 2019.
A TIV contains two A strains and one B strain of flu, whereas a QIV has two A strains and two B strains. The advantage of administering a QIV is that the vaccine gives people an extra B strain, Ho said.
“Having two B strains means that people are having additional protection during the flu season against severe illnesses and hospitalization,” he said.
In October last year, when the nation saw a surge in demand for flu vaccines due to the pandemic, Sanofi was only the vaccine developer to provide the Ministry of Health and Welfare with additional vaccines to meet the demand.
“We were questioned by local media about why buying vaccines so late should be so expensive. We told them that vaccines were procured late and developed using recombinant protein technology, which is different from the technology used to develop QIVs,” Ho said.
Vaccine development should return to a normal pace once there is no pressing demand from a global pandemic, he said.
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