Dion Neame is the Country Medical Lead for Sanofi Canada and Country Medical Head for Pasteur, the vaccine arm of Sanofi. He is also a pediatrician working in Pediatric Urgent Care clinics in Southwestern Ontario. He spoke to IMC about some of the key developments and new research related to the fight against COVID-19.
IMC: Many companies across the industry are working towards a vaccine against COVID-19. Can you share where Sanofi is at?
Sanofi, in collaboration with GSK and Translate Bio, have two COVID-19 candidate vaccines in development right now. The first vaccine is based on an already approved influenza vaccine platform known as the Baculovirus expression system. The main difference is removing the influenza’s hemagglutinin protein and replacing it with the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The second vaccine is a new technology, mRNA candidate vaccine approach, generating immunological protection against the virus SARS-CoV-2.
Then, of course we have to ensure the vaccines are safe, that they work, and assess how well they work through clinical trials. We estimate that it will take 12 to 18 months before a coronavirus vaccine can be ready.
IMC: How else is Sanofi helping to address the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sanofi is in a unique position where we’re working towards solutions to support detection, prevention and treatment of COVID-19. We have a clinical study looking at the efficacy of IL-6 receptor blockers in COVID-19 patients as well as a partnership with a company called Luminostics to develop a smartphone-based self-testing solution for COVID-19.
IMC: What other research projects are you working on in relation to COVID-19?
Presently, Sanofi Canada is working closely with York University to develop modelling papers discussing the benefits of a mass influenza vaccination campaign in the time of COVID-19. The scientific team will focus on a clinical perspective of overwhelming healthcare system capacity, particularly the critical care units, understanding that patients that require ventilators will be due to multiple reasons such as influenza, COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens.
IMC: Many Canadians get their news from social media and the internet. Why is it important to look at credible news sources when it comes to COVID-19?
COVID-19 is caused by a novel virus, SARS-CoV-2. This means that all the data is new. Credible mathematical modelling and scientific studies will generate clarity around the virus and disease. These studies need to be reviewed and published in scientific journals and then can be discussed to support the use of vaccines and therapeutic products that may have potential to work. It is not a guessing game; it is a study game.
For treatments that have shown promise during the early stages of the pandemic outbreak in China, we are now starting randomized controlled studies that follow patients with strict protocols to gather data about the benefit and the risks associated with the treatment. It’s about patient safety first. When people get ahead of science and start saying that “this or that will work” on social media platforms, we have to be very careful since inaccurate data being discussed could lead people to unsafe and non-efficacious therapies. I always recommend that people go to official sites such as the Health Canada website to get answers to their questions about COVID-19.