Covid-19: three questions on the new Franco-Austrian vaccine from Valneva, in the process of being authorized in the United Kingdom
Valneva's VLA2001 vaccine candidate is based on inactivated virus vaccine technology. (ARTUR WIDAK / NURPHOTO)

The laboratory hopes to be able to market its inactivated virus vaccine before the end of the year. It could become the first of its kind used against the Covid-19 virus in Europe.

Final sprint for Valneva across the Channel. The Franco-Austrian laboratory, based in Nantes, announced that it had submitted an authorization request to the United Kingdom for its candidate vaccine against Covid-19 . Even if it is still in the testing phase, this vaccine, called VLA2001, is of great interest to the British government, which has already placed an option on one hundred million doses. Technology, efficiency, marketing ... Franceinfo explains everything you need to know about this possible new weapon against the coronavirus.

1 How does this vaccine work?

The Valneva laboratory has chosen to develop an inactivated virus vaccine. Since Louis Pasteur, this has been the historical method of designing a vaccine, as we explain in this article . It is therefore much older than that of messenger RNA, for example, used in vaccines from Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech. This inactivated virus technique is the same as that used for the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, which are currently only authorized by a limited number of countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America. 

Inactivated virus vaccines contain " the virus or bacteria that carries the disease, or a very similar one" , details the World Health Organization (WHO) , dangerous elements which are fortunately inactivated or killed  "at using chemicals, heat or radiation " . This ghost virus thus becomes incapable of infecting cells, and therefore of causing disease. On the other hand, it allows the immune system to develop an appropriate response, and therefore protects in the event of infection with the "real" virus. It is this classic technique that is used to produce vaccines against seasonal influenza, hepatitis A or polio, for example., virus inactivated vaccines often require multiple doses or boosters, but cause very few side effects and can even be given to people with weakened immune systems.

2 How effective is it against Sars-CoV-2?

It is still too early to know the rate of effectiveness of the VLA2001 vaccine against the virus, and it is also not known how well it can protect serious forms of Covid-19. Launched in September 2020, the vaccine candidate is indeed still in the testing phase. T he first part of the phase 3 trials, which must  prove or not the real effectiveness of the treatment before a possible marketing, is currently taking place in the United Kingdom, with adult patients of all ages. In early August, the Valneva laboratory launched an additional trial in New Zealand, with people over 56 years old, the age group most at risk for Covid-19. 

Just got vaccinated as part of the third phase of #Valneva trial. Feeling good! Let's hope for some good antibodies. Second jab in 4 weeks. - Dasha Semochkina (@dasha_murasha) May 14, 2021

In a press  release published at the beginning of April, Valneva welcomed the convincing results (link in English)  at the end of the phase 2 trials, with a significant production of antibodies in more than 90% of the participants after two doses received. All "without posing any security problem ,  " said the British daily The Guardian . About 4,000 people are currently participating in phase 3 trials, the results of which should be known "at the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2021" , assures the company.

3 Which countries are interested in this vaccine?

The Valneva laboratory is currently focusing on the European market, where it is still struggling to convince. The European Union is much less excited than the United Kingdom, which has already ordered 100 million deliverable doses between 2021 and 2022  -  and which has an option on  90 million additional doses between 2023 and 2025.  Exchanges between Valneva and the Europeans have not gone beyond the stage of preliminary discussions, which ended in mid-January, the European Commission said at the time in a statement . 

Banking on Valneva is also a way to  diversify sources of vaccine supply and not depend on a single manufacturer. " In case of problems, you need different tools in your toolbox , argued in the  Guardian  (article in English)  Professor Adam Finn, a pediatrician at the University of Bristol and Chief Examiner Valneva test . You don't just have to have multiple vaccines, but especially vaccines that use different approaches. " If it were to be validated by the British health authorities, Valneva's vaccine would be the first anti-Covid vaccine with inactivated virus marketed in a European country.

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