French politicians have reacted with dismay to the news that the prestigious Institut Pasteur is dropping its main coronavirus vaccine after disappointing test results.
Researchers at the institute said clinical trials of his vaccine had shown him to be less successful in fighting the virus than expected. He had tried to adapt an existing vaccine used against measles, in partnership with the American company Merck.
The announcement dealt another blow to the French government, which faces criticism of the slow roll-out of its vaccine program, and the announcement that laboratories producing licensed vaccines, including Pfizer, are struggling to respond. on demand.
The other French pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi, said its vaccine would not be ready before the end of this year, again due to disappointing initial results.
On Tuesday, Sanofi announced that it would produce 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by its competitor Pfizer / BioNTech by the end of this year.
The chief executive of the company, Paul Hudson, told Le Figaro: “As we are a few months behind our main vaccine, we asked ourselves how we could be useful now, how we could also participate in the collective effort to end this crisis as quickly as possible. as possible.
“We looked at different possible options and contacted Pfizer / BioNTech and signed an agreement with them on Tuesday.” Sanofi will start manufacturing the vaccines at its Frankfurt plant from July.
Failures and delays in developing a vaccine in France have sparked introspection in the country, once a world leader in medical breakthroughs and the birthplace of microbiology pioneer Louis Pasteur, who invented vaccines against rabies and anthrax .
The center-right Les Républicains parliamentary group tweeted: “In a race against time, the Institut Pasteur throws in the towel on its main vaccine project, while Sanofi announces a delay until the end of the year, due to a lack of effectiveness after so many great announcements. This scientific decline is a slap in the face. ”
Bastien Lachaud, member of the far left La France Insoumise, was also wasting away. “No vaccine in the land of Pasteur! What a symbol. This is where the impoverishment of public research, the primacy of the private sector and the triumph of management and profit lead ”, he said. tweeted.
The centrist François Bayrou, an ally of President Emmanuel Macron, denounced what he called a “brain drain” which caused national humiliation.
“This is a sign of the decline of the country and this decline is unacceptable,” Bayrou, leader of the MoDem party, who has been appointed commissioner for long-term government planning, told France Inter radio.
He referred to Stéphane Bancel, the French national who heads the US-based biotechnology company Moderna, whose vaccine was the second to be approved in the US and Europe.
“It is not acceptable that our best researchers, the most brilliant of our researchers, are sucked into the American system,” added Bayrou.
The issue of vaccines has touched several rough nerves in France where some see it as an attack on the country’s self-esteem.
Bayrou said France should strengthen its “public actions including research.” “It’s a question of money, but it is money well spent and a necessary investment,” added Bayrou.
Sanofi, the world’s fifth-largest pharmaceutical company by prescription drug sales, caused a storm last year when chief executive Paul Hudson – a British citizen – said the United States would receive all vaccines produced before the rest of the world.
Earlier this month, Sanofi announced 1,700 job cuts, including 1,000 in France, including 400 in research.
“It’s a shame for a group like Sanofi … and it’s a humiliation for France, unable to vaccinate, unable to put a vaccine on the market,” Fabien Roussel, national secretary of the Communist Party, told French radio French.
Roussel added that it was a scandal since Sanofi received 100-150 million euros in tax credits for its research from the state.
The Institut Pasteur began phase 1 testing of its vaccines on human volunteers in August 2020. It reported that “the immune responses induced were lower than those observed in people cured of a natural infection as well as those observed with other vaccines against Covid-19. ”
Professor Bruno Hoen, director of medical research at Pasteur, told France Inter that the results were “bad news, of course”. Le Pasteur said he would continue to work on other coronavirus vaccine products that have remained at a preliminary stage and have not been subjected to clinical trials in humans.
Others said the institute’s failure was more nuanced than the political outbursts suggested.
Jacques Haiech, professor emeritus of biotechnology at the University of Strasbourg, told France 24: “Vaccine research depends in part on luck. The option chosen by the Institut Pasteur was simply not the best.
“Beyond the question of austerity policies, which are very real and have an impact on the capacities of French research, there is above all the disappearance of the research centers of the French pharmaceutical industry, which preferred to outsource for several years, because the vaccine is not a successful product. ”
In a report for the Terra Nova think tank on lessons to be learned from the race to develop Covid-19 vaccines, Anne Bucher, former Director General for Health at the European Commission, concluded that the European Union as a whole had shown its limits.
“The EU has not been able to put as much money on the table as the US,” she wrote.
The US government has invested more in vaccine research in recent decades, experts say. French researchers deplore that it is easier and faster to raise funds from private investors in the United States. A 2019 study found that biotechs in Europe received five times less private funding than their US counterparts who rely heavily on investments from venture capital funds.