Having recently announced major investments, Sanofi is stepping up its pace with a multi-billion-dollars acquisition of an American company in messenger RNA, Translate Bio, a pharmaceutical innovation that has been in the spotlight since the Covid-19 crisis.
A few weeks ago, the French giant announced a two-billion-euro investment program in messenger RNA, including the creation of a specialized research center.
“Sanofi will acquire Translate Bio and accelerate the deployment of mRNA technology in the development of vaccines and therapeutic agents,” the French company announced Tuesday in a statement.
Upon closing, Translation Bio will be valued at $3.2 billion.
The American firm is in the same niche as its German competitor, BioNTech, and its compatriot, Moderna, which the general public became aware of during the Covid-19 crisis.
All of them are betting on messenger RNA. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the technology has grown dramatically from an uncertain bet to a viable option.
The vaccines developed by BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna were among the first to be licensed against Covid-19, and are currently the most effective.
A technology applicable to other diseases
Unlike conventional vaccines, which use a weakened or neutralized virus, messenger RNA technology introduces a genome sequence directly into cells, making them produce antibodies that recognize and eliminate the virus.
Sanofi is already working with Translate Bio on a messenger RNA vaccine against Coronavirus, though at an early stage since it has not yet been tested on a large scale.
Nevertheless, its promise extends far beyond that particular disease, and Covid-19 has put this technology in the public’s awareness and significantly accelerated its development.
Last month, BioNTech announced a malaria vaccine project. Broadly speaking, the messenger RNA pioneers could help treat everything from AIDS to certain types of cancer.
This is the turning point Sanofi cannot afford to miss. Several weeks ago, the French giant announced it would invest 2 billion euros by 2025 in messenger RNA research.
The company plans to develop several vaccines targeting infectious diseases, but remains secretive about its exact plans. In June, Sanofi announced it had already begun trials for its seasonal flu vaccine with Translate Bio.
With the takeover of Translate Bio, Sanofi further accentuates this gamble, since Translate Bio already had a close relationship with Sanofi.
Paul Hudson, Sanofi’s chief executive, said in a press release on Tuesday that the total takeover would allow the company to take advantage of all the possibilities presented by messenger RNA.
“We will also be able to accelerate the development programs we are currently working on with Translate Bio,” he said.
A Covid vaccine in December
The French company is in fact in a strong position financially, since it sold its stake in Regeneron last year, an operation that allowed it to recuperate more than 10 billion euros.
Almost a year after Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved, Sanofi is also planning to launch its first Covid-19 vaccine, which will be separate from its TranslateBio collaboration.