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Developing a vaccine takes 10 years. Sanofi seeks to do so within 18 months

Key Points
  • "Ordinarily it takes 10 years to invent a vaccine. The main reason is because you've got to give it to a lot of healthy people on a massive scale," said Paul Hudson, CEO of the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi.
  • "I can assure you, for one of the leading companies like ourselves, we're doing everything we can to be there as fast as we can," he said in a "Mad Money" interview, as scientists attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Sanofi is working with U.S. authorities to fast-track a prior SARS vaccine candidate to combat the coronavirus.
Sanofi CEO talks fast-tracking coronavirus vaccine development process

The process to develop a vaccine typically takes a decade, but an untypical circumstance is calling for it to be done in a fraction of the time, the head of a French pharmaceutical giant told CNBC's Jim Cramer on Friday.

"Ordinarily it takes 10 years to invent a vaccine," said Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, which is in the race with multiple companies to fashion a remedy to fend off COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the new coronavirus.

"The main reason is because you've got to give it to a lot of healthy people on a massive scale," he said in a "Mad Money" interview.

With the world seeking solutions to slow the spread of the virus, Sanofi Pasteur, the company's vaccine division, is working to complete the development process in 12 to 18 months. The process includes the exploratory stage, pre-clinical stage, clinical development, regulatory review/approval, manufacturing and quality control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To do so, Sanofi is revisiting research it compiled for a pre-clinical severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, vaccine candidate that began during a prior coronavirus outbreak that began in late 2002 and largely disappeared in 2004, according to a press release. The virus causing the current pandemic is part of a family of coronaviruses.

The company has 60 scientists at work around the clock, Hudson said, investigating whether the old vaccine candidate can prevent COVID-19. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is collaborating with Sanofi to expedite the company's recombinant technology platform to shorten the process time frame.

"I'm confident that we'll get a vaccine. It may take a little while," said Hudson, who wants the science to guide the operation. "I can assure you, for one of the leading companies like ourselves, we're doing everything we can to be there as fast as we can."

The novel coronavirus, which was first discovered in China in December, has infected more than 585,000 people and been connected to more than 26,800 deaths. The United States on Thursday overtook China and Italy for the most recorded cases, nearing 100,000 as of Friday evening, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Sanofi has a two-pronged role in efforts to stop the spread of the virus. Outside of the vaccine development, the drugmaker launched a clinical trial program last week to treat severe COVID-19 symptoms with Kevzara, an FDA-approved arthritis therapy co-developed by American biotech giant Regeneron.

Regeneron is conducting the test trials in the United States, and Sanofi is handling tests abroad. Northwell Health, New York state's largest health-care provider, is serving as a trial site for Regeneron and for testing of another existing drug, from Gilead Sciences. President Donald Trump has also touted malaria drugs as potential remedies.

Officials hope the Kevzara study can confirm preliminary data of its efficacy found in China and other parts of the world.

"We hope that we'll bring some relief to the patients in a more severe setting. We don't know," Hudson said of the Kevzara trials. "We're working with the [World Health Organization], with Regeneron, with the European Medicines Agency, and making sure that the right trials are done but at the right speed, so that if there is a significant benefit we can get it to patients as fast as possible."

Sanofi CEO talks testing vaccine, existing drugs to combat coronavirus

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