Pharma giant Sanofi is developing a vaccine to fight the deadly coronavirus outbreak using its previous research on SARS

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Pharma giant Sanofi is developing a vaccine to fight the deadly coronavirus outbreak using its previous research on SARS

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson

Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson

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  • Pharma giant Sanofi announced Tuesday it is joining the fight against the coronavirus.
  • The French pharma giant plans to use its prior research from the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak to speed up the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
  • Sanofi joins a handful of other major drugmakers, including Johnson & Johnson, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and Gilead Sciences, in responding to the viral outbreak that has killed 1,873 people and sickened more than 72,000.
  • Even with the focus on speed, Sanofi's global head of vaccines David Loew estimated it will take 12 to 18 months to begin testing a coronavirus vaccine in humans.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Sanofi just became the latest prominent drugmaker to join the race to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

The French pharma giant has begun researching a vaccine to counteract the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and believes it has a head start on speedy development. Sanofi is building off of prior vaccine research on the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The company plans to test that vaccine candidate against the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19.

The coronavirus has spread to more than two dozen countries, killed 1,873 people and infected more than 72,000.

Sanofi is also working with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop this vaccine.

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"We are confident in working with BARDA, together we will be able to address this faster than going at it alone," David Loew, Sanofi's global head of vaccines, said on a Tuesday call with reporters.

Sanofi joins several other prominent drugmakers in responding to the coronavirus, including Johnson & Johnson, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and Gilead Sciences. Some are developing vaccines from scratch using info about the virus's genetic code. Others are testing existing drugs as near-term treatment options.

Sanofi's experimental vaccine has yet to be tested in humans, but showed partial protection when tested in animals. Sanofi acquired the candidate through its 2017 acquisition of Protein Sciences.

The French pharma giant also anticipates speedy development because there is already an approved flu vaccine that uses the same manufacturing platform. Sanofi's Loew said this large-scale manufacturing is a key advantage for Sanofi in being able to quickly ramp up production of doses in a short time.

The industry's response will be tested by the urgency of the outbreak. Regulators require extensive research and testing to prove a drug's efficacy and safety. A coronavirus vaccine will likely take years to reach the masses, vaccine development experts previously told Business Insider.

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Loew said it may take 12 to 18 months to start testing the new vaccine in people.

Even if a vaccine comes too late for this outbreak, experts emphasized the research still holds significant public health value by preparing for a potential future outbreak.

"It will be folly to think that this won't happen again," Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, previously told Business Insider. "It absolutely will, and history has shown that to be the case."

Read more: The Wuhan coronavirus has now claimed more lives than SARS. Top scientists told us it could take years and cost $1 billion to make a vaccine to fight the epidemic.

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