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“Europe is not lagging behind when it comes to vaccines”



The cross : The pharmacy giants appear to have fallen behind in the race for the Covid-19 vaccine. How do you explain it?

Jean Reboullet: The first two vaccines authorized by the European Union (EU), those of the German BioNtech and the American Moderna, are very innovative and use a technology that had never been used until now and which seems very effective . Traditional players in the pharmaceutical industry, such as AstraZeneca and Sanofi, have taken other options using mature technologies that they have mastered perfectly. Their vaccines will also hit the market, although it may take a little longer. This timing shift is not indicative of industrial weakness, but only of different technological options.

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Can we not all the same speak of a victory for young biotechnology companies, the biotechs?

JR: If there is victory, it is not new. When we look at pharmaceutical R&D, we see that most innovations come from biotechs. This is not new and not specific to the Covid vaccine. This has been going on for years.

Big pharma are finding it increasingly difficult to find new and innovative products, but they have the financial capacity to acquire them. This is the reason why they are buying drugs in the trial phase developed by biotechs. They also sometimes buy these companies.

For large laboratories, this is a way of outsourcing their research and this model works quite well. What is happening today shows that they remain at the center of the system, because it is not enough to invent, it is also necessary to produce and have large industrial capacities. This is the reason why BioNtech has partnered with Pfizer.

Europe is not lagging behind when it comes to vaccines, as we often hear these days. There is BioNtech, but also Curevac, another German biotech, which is also on a vaccine against Covid. The French Valneva is working on a vaccine against Lyme disease, which would be the first in the world.

What lessons can we draw from this pandemic for the pharmaceutical sector?

JR: This health crisis has shown that the pharmaceutical industry can react very quickly. Until then it took at least four to five years to develop a vaccine and ten to fifteen years to develop a drug. With new RNA vaccines, like those from BioNtech and Moderna, everything could go faster. It’s a revolution.

Researchers have been working on RNA for twenty years, but the product was quite unstable and difficult to control. The success that we are seeing today opens up many promising prospects for other pathologies, such as cancer.

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When we put in the means and the States provide their assistance, the results are not long in coming. The last phases of tests carried out by Moderna or BioNtech on 35,000 people undoubtedly required at least 200 million euros. In such short deadlines, the challenge is not only financial, but also logistical, to recruit patients and process data. The fact of having gone so fast is not only unprecedented on this scale, but bluffing.

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