COVID-19 and 8 Big Pharma Companies: The Race to Develop a Vaccine

The race is on to find a vaccine to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Governments of the world are mounting pressure on pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories to find a vaccine to help stop the spread of coronavirus. If eventually found, normalcy will be restored in our day-to-day activities across the world. The government of the United States is supporting the effort by companies and laboratories to develop a vaccine with $1 billion. There are more than 102 candidate vaccines that researchers are working on, nine of which are now being tested in clinical trials in humans.

A vaccine is prepared by weakening the power of the causative agent (bacteria or viruses) of a disease in order to reduce their power to reproduce or stop them from reproducing at all. It is used in stimulating the production of antibodies and provide immunity against the disease. A candidate vaccine (CV) goes through clinical trials which focus on determining its safety and efficacy  before it gets licensed. Pre-clinical screenings are done to know the approximate dose ranges and proper drug formulations. Part of the pre-clinical screening is for the CV to go through animal testing before moving to Phase I trials. At this stage, the best dose of the vaccine is determined with the least side effects. The vaccine will be tested on a small group of people, say, about 15 to 30 patients. During Phase II trials, advanced assessment of the safety of the CV is conducted on a larger group of people. New combinations are also tested in this phase. Once the CV passes this trial, it then moves to Phase III and IV which fewer vaccines get to.  The further the trial, the more thorough the scrutiny. The whole process might take months or years to complete because it takes a reasonable period for subjects to react and develop the required antibodies.

Below are the names of big pharmaceutical companies putting in their best efforts to ensure the world wins the war on the coronavirus.



Moderna Inc. is an American biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. It was founded in September 2010 and has about 700 employees. Its CEO is Stephane Bancel.

Work on Covid-19 Vaccine

Moderna has developed RNA and it’s the first CV to enter Phase I clinical trials having skipped animal testing (temporarily). This project is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), a part of the US National Institute of Health. RNA is currently being tested on volunteers at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Phase II trials should begin in the next couple of months.


(CanSinoBio, stock 6185.HK) is an innovative biopharmaceutical company dedicated to exploring best solutions to the prevention of diseases through cutting edge research & development, advanced manufacturing and commercialization of innovative vaccine products for human use worldwide. It was founded in 2009 and located in Tianjin, China. It has about 450 employees. Its CEO is Xuefeng YU.

Work on Covid-19 Vaccine

Ad5-nCoV, developed by Cansino Biologics Inc is the only CV currently in Phase II trials. It uses a harmless non-replicating viral vector to carry vaccine antigens into human cell. This is the same platform the pharmaceutical giant used for its Ebola Vaccine. The Ad5-nCoV was jointly developed with  the institute of Biotechnology of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences. The clinical trial will enrol 108 subjects and take place at Tongi hospital in Wuhan, where the COVID 19 pandemic began.


BioNTech is a biotechnology company that develops immunoteraphies for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. It is founded in 2008 and located in Mainz Germany. Its CEO is Ugur Sahin.

Work on Covid-19 Vaccine

BioNtech and Pfizer (one of the largest multinational pharmaceutical companies in the world, based in America) have developed BNT 162 CV. It’s being tested in humans in global trials. The testing has started in Germany which will be followed by USA and China.


Inovio Pharmaceuticals is biotechnology company based in America. It was founded in 1983. The president and CEO is Joseph Kim.

Work on Covid-19 Vaccine

Inovio put its INO-4800 DNA, a vaccine candidate, into human trials in April. It is so far the only company with a Phase2 vaccine against the MERS.CoV. The company plans to start human clinical trials in the USA and shortly after in China and South Korea.


Founded in 1999, Sinovac is a biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the research, development, manufacture and commercialization of vaccines that protect against human infectious diseases. The company is based in Beijing, China.

Work on Covid-19 Vaccine

It has an inactivated vaccine which has been tested on primates so far, and has protected rhesus macaques (a specie of Old World monkey) from contracting the virus, three weeks after being injected with the vaccine.


Novavax Inc. is a vaccine development company headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, America. It has additional facilities in Rockville, Maryland and Uppsala, Sweden. Its CEO is Stanley C. Erck. It was founded in 1987.

Work on Covid-19 Vaccine

Novavax has developed NVX-CoV2373, a protein subunit CV which has undergone successful animal testing. The protein on the spikey outer shell of the coronavirus is injected into the body to generate antigens. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) gave Novavax $4 million to manufacture this CV. It will still give Novavax $388 million to continue the development and manufacturing of its CV. Human clinical trials have already started.


Sanofi S.A. is a multinational pharmaceutical company located in Paris, France. It was founded by Elf Aquitaine in 1973. It has about 104,226 employees. Its CEO is Paul Hudson.

Work on Covid-19

Sanofi is working with GSK (a British multinational pharmaceutical company located in London, England) to develop an adjuvanted CV. Sanofi is contributing its S- protein COVID-19 antigen which is recombinant technology-based while GSK is contributing its pandemic adjuvant technology. The development of this CV is being funded by Advanced Research Development Authority (BARDA) in the US. Sanofi’s CEO, Paul Hudson recently sparked a row by saying the US government  had “the right to the largest pre-order because it has invested taking the risk”. A statement which Sanofi’s chairman, Serve Wenberg had to debunk and clarify.


Johnson & Johnson is an American multinational corporation founded in 1886 that develops medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods.Its CEO is Alex Gorsky.

Work on Covid-19 Vaccine

Research teams at Janssen (a pharmaceutical company owned by J&J, based in Belgium) in  collaboration with Beth Israel Deacones Medical Center, part of Harvard Medical school and multiple academic institutions, have constructed and tested multiple candidate vaccines using the Janssen AdVac® technology. Through this, J&J has identified a lead Covid-19 CV (with two-back ups) which will progress into first manufacturing steps. Phase 1 clinical study will be initiated in September 2020, with clinical date on safety expected to be available by the end of the year.

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