GSK and Sanofi look to catch up in vaccine race with booster doses

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GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK) and Sanofi are planning to join the vaccine race well after their competitors as they pin their hopes on the need for boosters.

The pair have received lukewarm market reaction despite posting positive mid-stage trial results for their COVID-19 vaccine.

READ: GSK and Sanofi reveal positive trial results for COVID-19 vaccine

The FTSE 100 pharma company was flat on Monday as investors are likely waiting for phase 3 numbers before popping the champagne open.

The jab, which has encountered some hiccups along the way, showed 95% to 100% seroconversion (immunisation after the development of antibodies) following two doses.

The candidate stunned observers in December when it showed no impact on the over-50s, the group most vulnerable to the virus.

The failed approach deployed Sanofi’s recombinant DNA strain used normally for flu jabs alongside GSK’s adjuvants, which are designed to enhance the immune response.

It was then tweaked for a 722-participant phase 2 study, where participants who had previously contracted the virus experienced high antibody levels with the first dose.

That’s why the pair reckon they can offer it as a booster to keep protection up after the first rollouts are completed.

“Our Phase 2 data confirm the potential of this vaccine to play a role in addressing this ongoing global public health crisis, as we know multiple vaccines will be needed, especially as variants continue to emerge and the need for effective and booster vaccines, which can be stored at normal temperatures, increases,” said Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and head of Sanofi Pasteur.

“With these favourable results, we are set to progress to a global phase 3 efficacy study.”

The latter will include over 35,000 participants from various countries and will assess the efficacy of two vaccine formulations including the Wuhan and South African variants.

It means the vaccine should be approved in the fourth quarter of 2021, which would be around a year after competitors Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech received US and UK emergency authorisation.

“[GSK and Sanofi] haven’t been the first to market. They seemed to believe that once it progresses through the necessary trials and processes, they will have a strong candidate,” Steve Clayton, head of equity Funds at Hargreaves Lansdown, told Proactive.

“The question is how much demand will there be one they get to market and how much success it will have compared to other firms.”

It’s not clear why Glaxo, a global leader in vaccines, did not go ahead with its own candidate, also considering that chief executive Emma Walmsley had identified infectious disease as an area of focus.

Monday’s news must be a relief for Walmsley, who has recently been watched closely by the market due to concerns about the company’s performance.

However, GSK may need to do more to restore investors’ confidence after emerging as the unlikely pandemic loser at a delicate time, as it plans to split into two companies in 2022.

Shares were flat at 1,372.2p on Monday afternoon, 25% below pre-pandemic levels.

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