Sanofi CEO courts controversy after saying US is first in line for COVID-19 vaccine

French pharma company Sanofi

Sanofi’s CEO Paul Hudson has courted controversy by saying the French pharma’s potential COVID-19 vaccine will likely be delivered to the US government first should it succeed in clinical trials.

In an interview with Bloomberg Hudson pointed out that the US had been the first to fund research after expanding a vaccine partnership with Sanofi in February. 

Sanofi has also partnered with GlaxoSmithKline to produce the vaccine, with the French company producing the antigen that produces the immune reaction and the British firm supplying the adjuvant to boost its effect. 

Hudson told Bloomberg: “The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk.” 

He told the news outlet the expectation of the US government is “that if we’ve helped you manufacture the doses at risk, we expect to get the doses first.” 

But Hudson’s comments drew an angry response from France’s deputy finance minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher. 

Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio“For us, it would be unacceptable for there to be privileged access to such and such a country for financial reasons.” 

France’s president Emmanuel Macron has been working closely with German chancellor Angela Merkel to create an $8 billion euro fund to support equitable distribution of any vaccine. 

But despite their efforts national governments are taking a leading role in shaping the potential distribution arrangements and a pecking order is already emerging based on levels of investment.

As Hudson’s comments suggest, the US government is one of the largest players and is also likely to be first in line to receive doses of one of the front-runners from Moderna, should it prove itself in ongoing clinical trials. 

The UK government is likely to have first dibs on a vaccine developed by scientists from Oxford University, who have partnered with the country’s big pharma AstraZeneca.

Sanofi’s vaccine is still in preclinical development and is one of more than 100 potential jabs that have yet to make it into the clinic. 

According to a regularly updated horizon scanning document compiled by the World Health Organisation, there are now eight potential vaccines in clinical development. 

Like many of the vaccine manufacturers Sanofi is aiming for a 2021 launch of its vaccine, which is based around the “Spike” protein found on the surface of the coronavirus.