Macron pledges €200 million for French medical research to counter Covid-19

French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to the Sanofi Pasteur site in Marcy-L'Étoile, near Lyon, France, June 16, 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to the Sanofi Pasteur site in Marcy-L'Étoile, near Lyon, France, June 16, 2020. © Gonzalo Fuentes, AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron and the country’s top drugmaker announced plans Tuesday to bolster domestic production of medicines amid an international scramble to strengthen public healthcare industries to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.


Drugmaker Sanofi, which is working on two potential coronavirus vaccines, said it would invest €610 million ($679 million) at two French sites to turn them into a hub dedicated to research, development and production of vaccines.

Speaking at Sanofi's Marcy-L'Étoile facility, Macron also pledged €200 million to help domestic research and manufacturing of medicines, and said his government would announce plans on Thursday to bring back certain pharmaceutical production facilities to France.

"Everybody saw that during this crisis some commonly used drugs were no longer produced in France and Europe. So we must no longer just ask questions, but draw the conclusions," Macron said at the Sanofi site near Lyon, central France.

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for Covid-19, which has killed more than 431,000 globally. Drugmakers across the world are rushing to address that, while governments in turn are jostling to try to ensure they will be in line for supplies.

'Sanofi's heart beats in France'

The issue has become particularly sensitive in France after Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson signalled in May that Europe was being too slow in supporting work on a vaccine and hinted US patients might get any vaccine it develops first, given Washington had provided more funding.

Hudson's comment irked French authorities, with Agnès Pannier-Runacher, junior minister for industry, noting it was "unacceptable" if certain countries get privileged access to a coronavirus vaccine produced by the French drugmaker 

In a speech after hosting Macron on Tuesday, Hudson attempted to smooth tensions with the French government, reiterating that Sanofi was committed to helping France build up its healthcare system.

"Sanofi's heart beats in France," said Hudson.

Europe’s lack of coordination under spotlight

Despite Sanofi’s promise that it would make a vaccine available worldwide simultaneously, the drugmaker’s initial comments put the spotlight on Europe's lack of health coordination.

In the latest sign European countries are now trying to catch up, a group formed by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands struck a deal on Saturday to secure 400 million doses of AstraZeneca's potential vaccine.

The European Commission, meanwhile, received a mandate from EU governments on Friday to negotiate advance purchases of up to six vaccines using proceeds of an emergency fund of €2.4 billion.


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