GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK) said it and French partner Sanofi will have to go back to the drawing board after the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine they were developing failed to show a strong enough response in the most at-risk group – the over 50s.
The groups will begin a phase IIb study of an enhanced formulation in February, meaning they won’t have a jab market-ready until the fourth quarter of 2021 (instead of the middle of last year as first planned).
“We have identified the path forward and remain confident and committed to bringing a safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccine,” said the inaptly named Thomas Triomphe of Sanofi Pasteur.
He described the latest pre-clinical data from a newly-optimised version of the drug, which has been tested in animals, as “encouraging”.
"No single pharma company can make it alone; the world needs more than one vaccine to fight the pandemic," said Triomphe.
It is the first setback in a largely successful quest for a vaccine that has seen breakthroughs from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford University/AstraZeneca.
The UK this week became the first country in the world to start inoculating its population after giving rapid approval to Pfizer/BioNTech drug.
Mass vaccine roll-out will be aided by the approval of other drugs, particularly the Oxford/AZ drug, which is free of storage challenges faced by the other vaccines.
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.