REFILE-UPDATE 2-Sanofi to invest in mRNA vaccines development

(Makes clear investment figure is annual sum)

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PARIS, June 29 (Reuters) - Sanofi will invest about 400 million euros ($476 million) annually in research and development of next-generation vaccines using mRNA technologies, which proved their efficiency in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 jabs.

Sanofi added on Tuesday that its “mRNA Center of Excellence” will bring together around 400 employees based at existing sites close to Lyon in southern France and in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is expected to produce a minimum of six clinical candidates by 2025.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, mRNA technologies demonstrated potential to deliver new vaccines faster than ever before”, said Jean-Francois Toussaint, global head of R&D at Sanofi Pasteur, the company’s vaccines division.

“However, key areas of innovation such as thermostability and tolerability improvements will be critical to unlock the applications of mRNA in routine vaccination against a broader set of infectious diseases and across all ages,” he added.

The French drug company and its British counterpart GlaxoSmithKline disappointed investors and customers late last year when they announced a one-year delay to the launch of their joint COVID vaccine, based on a more conventional technology.

Sanofi has since pledged to help Pfizer and Moderna manufacture COVID-19 shots in an effort to help meet the huge demand for the U.S. drugmaker’s doses.

The mRNA technology has proven both effective and safe so far in the vaccine response to COVID-19, including in response to the virus’ variants.

The latest one, the Delta variant first found in India, is spreading at a fast rate around the world, prompting governments to accelerate their vaccinations programs.

French Health Minister Oliver Veran said on Tuesday that the Delta variant represented some 20 percent of COVID cases in France.

Sanofi is also working on a mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate with U.S. company Translate Bio, for which it has started clinical trials.

The two groups, which have been collaborating since 2018, have also started a Phase I clinical trial earlier this year evaluating an mRNA-based investigational vaccine against seasonal influenza.

Last month, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline launched a late-stage human trial for their COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which they hope to get approved by the end of 2021. ($1 = 0.8397 euros) (Reporting by Matthias Blamont and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)