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Sanofi CEO: Upfront funding wins U.S. first access to coronavirus shot

As questions swirl over equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson has laid out some of his company’s plans should its program succeed, Bloomberg reports. A key point? The U.S. will be first in line.

Shortly after the remarks made their rounds, representatives for the company said that the distribution plans are more complex. U.S. plants will make vaccine doses for the U.S., a spokesman said, while other locations will supply to other countries.

In his Bloomberg interview, Hudson said the U.S. stepped up first to invest in the company’s research, so it “has the right to the largest pre-order.”

In fact, the government expects to be rewarded with quick access, Hudson says, after BARDA signed on in February to collaborate with the French drugmaker. Specifically, the U.S. expects that “if we’ve helped you manufacture the doses at risk, we expect to get the doses first,” Hudson told Bloomberg.

A Sanofi spokesman said the company “benefits from a diversified footprint around the world” and has “always been committed in these unprecedented circumstances to make our vaccine accessible to everyone.”

Vaccines made in the U.S. will be designated for U.S. use, he said, while other sites will supply to Europe and the rest of the world.

Sanofi’s COVID-19 collaboration with BARDA builds on an existing relationship between the drugmaker and the U.S. government that has spanned pandemic influenza and a now-abandoned Zika tie-up.

For the COVID-19 work, Sanofi is drawing on technology from its Flublok recombinant flu vaccine and has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline to leverage the drugmakers’ global scale. The companies are aiming to deliver hundreds of millions of doses in 2021. Aside from that project, Sanofi is also involved in an mRNA vaccine partnership with Translate Bio.

Hudson said the U.S. advantage would only be measured in days or weeks, according to the news service.

Aside from Sanofi, BARDA has partnerships with Moderna Therapeutics and Johnson & Johnson, its website shows. The agency’s $30 million investment in Sanofi’s work pales in comparison to its $456 million contribution toward J&J’s shot. 

Still, in a recent Washington Post interview, J&J R&D head Paul Stoffels didn’t commit U.S. shipment timelines. He said the company intends to evaluate global needs for a potential rollout.

Recently, Hudson has been raising warnings in Europe that the “U.S. will get vaccines first,” because of its early investment, he told Bloomberg. 

Another promising project underway led by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will give the U.K. first access to immunizations, AZ CEO Pascal Soriot has said.

Earlier this week, world leaders pledged $8 billion to support COVID-19 vaccine work, but the U.S. did not participate, opting to continue funding its own research partnerships instead.