The vaccine race may have crowned its world champions, but more than two years after the start of the pandemic, there is still an honorary distinction to be awarded: that of the very first French vaccine against Covid-19. Experienced, in the country of Pasteur, as a national wound, this gap is about to be filled late, while two tricolor candidates are soon awaiting the approval of the European health authorities to deliver their first bottles. Among them, the Valneva laboratory.
The Tom Thumb of the pharmaceutical industry, based in Saint-Herblain, on the outskirts of Nantes, hopes to win approval before the end of April. And, why not, in the process, delight its rival Sanofi, yet a long favorite, the title of first tricolor vaccine to arrive on the market.
“The doses are ready. Subject to an authorization from the European Medicines Agency in April, we can start distributing the first vaccines to European Union member states at the beginning of May,” specifies Franck Grimaud, the general manager of the Franco-Austrian laboratory. Valneva had, in fact, obtained, after long negotiations, an order from the European Commission for 60 million doses, including 36 million as an option. The stakes are high for biotech. Unlike Big Pharma Sanofi, for which the marketing of a product against the virus will have little effect on the destiny of the company, it could, on the other hand, rock the future of Valneva.
The change is already visible for the laboratory, whose stock market value has more than quintupled over the past two years. “We are changing dimensions. We have thus gone from 500 employees at the end of 2019 to more than 800 today, nearly two thirds of whom work on Covid-19. »details Mr. Grimaud.
The emergence of a new factory in Scotland, a stone’s throw from the group’s first vaccine factory, also testifies to the ambitions of Nantes. The new building, which saw the light of day thanks to subsidies from the English and Scottish governments, should be operational by the end of the year. With a capacity of 100 million doses per year, compared to 2 million in the historic factory, it will be a question, underlines the boss of the laboratory, of “the second largest vaccine factory in the UK”.
Ironically, Crown subjects will not be the first to take advantage of this brand new facility, as the UK surprisingly terminated its contract for 100 million doses of vaccines in September 2021. grudge for Valneva: “Obviously we were disappointed at the time, we absolutely did not expect it, but we would not be where we are today without the help of the British government, which financed both our clinical trials and the construction From the factory “, comments Mr. Grimaud. In total, the United Kingdom injected more than 300 million pounds sterling (353 million euros) on Valneva’s vaccine.
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