CHINA – Chinese tech giant Baidu has announced an agreement with Sanofi, a leading biopharmaceutical company, to integrate LinearDesign, Baidu’s messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) design optimization platform, into Sanofi’s product design pipeline.

The partnership is designed to address the storage, distribution, and efficacy challenges around mRNA vaccines.

Sanofi will use the LinearDesign platform to contribute to the optimization of mRNA sequences for human therapeutic and preventive uses under the terms of the agreement.

This agreement represents a significant step forward for Baidu in leveraging its computational biology expertise to optimize mRNA vaccine and therapy designs in real-world pharmaceutical practice beyond COVID-19.

Prior to the pandemic, Sanofi was one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, but it was beaten by rivals BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna in developing mRNA shots against COVID-19.

Sanofi attempted to join the mRNA vaccine bandwagon as well, but was beaten by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and eventually dropped its bid in September.

Instead, it started focusing on joint efforts with GlaxoSmithKline to bring another COVID-19 vaccine candidate to market using a more traditional protein-based approach.

Despite the positive Phase I/II results of the vaccine, Sanofi admitted that the market was too crowded for further development to make sense.

That decision was based on an agreement signed with Translate Bio in mid-2018, but Sanofi upped the ante with an additional US$425 million upfront to begin vaccine research.

There had been enough positive results to justify Translate Bio US$3.2 billion buyout, at least in Sanofi’s opinion, though the agreement has so far raised more questions than answers.

While mRNA has proven to be an innovative vaccine development technology, instability remains a significant limitation that affects the storage, distribution, and efficacy of mRNA vaccines.

LinearDesign is a novel algorithm developed specifically for mRNA sequence design by Baidu researchers in 2020.

LinearDesign has been shown to improve the stability and immunogenicity of spike protein-encoding mRNA in both in vitro and in vivo experiments, according to the company.

COVID-19 vaccine candidates containing mRNA sequences generated by Baidu’s algorithm were more stable and appeared to require a smaller dosage than a baseline shot based on a standard algorithm.

According to Huang Liang, a Baidu scientist leading the project, Baidu will receive milestone payments when any mRNA-based therapy or vaccine candidate discovered by Sanofi using its algorithm enters clinical trials.

An mRNA-based vaccine contains an mRNA sequence that instructs human cells to produce proteins that stimulate the immune system.

Baidu’s algorithm is designed to deliver a greater number of optimized mRNA sequences, and there are early indications that it may be more suitable than standard algorithms in vaccine and therapeutic drug development.

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