France’s shift from frontrunner to backyard in the process of developing a Covid-19 vaccine has sparked outrage among politicians, sparking another debate over the country’s scientific prowess and its global standing.
France, the country of vaccine pioneer Louis Pasteur, has a long and famous history of medical breakthroughs.
With the world-famous research center bearing its name in Paris, the Pasteur Institute, as well as the leading pharmaceutical group Sanofi, the country looked well positioned in the race to produce a jab against the new coronavirus.
But the Pasteur Institute announced on Monday that it was abandoning research on its most promising perspective, while Sanofi – an early front in the vaccine race – has said that the candidate for vaccination is at best not ready before the end of 2021.
The French Pasteur Institute abandons the Covid-19 vaccine
“It is a sign of the country’s decline and this decline is unacceptable,” François Bayrou, a close political ally of President Emmanuel Macron, said on Tuesday.
Bayrou, leader of the centrist party MoDem and appointed by Macron last year as commissioner for long-term government planning, said the problem was a brain drain from France to the United States.
Speaking on France Inter-radio, he said that it was not “acceptable for our best researchers, the most brilliant of our researchers, to be absorbed by the American system”.
He referred to Stéphane Bancel, a Frenchman who heads the US-based biotechnology company Moderna, whose vaccine was the second to be approved for use in the United States and Europe.
Experts say the US government has invested more in vaccine research in recent decades, while innovative companies are also being attracted to the country as it is easier and faster to raise money from private investors.
Longtime Socialist Minister Ségolène Royal, on the other hand, blamed “liberal ideology” for cuts in public funding for vaccine research, while Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel called the setbacks a “humiliation”.
Stands up against les anglo-saxons
The failure of French Covid vaccine research has so far touched on several sensitive issues for the country.
The political class and many voters have long worried about France’s relative decline in power and influence – the ominous “declassification” – in an increasingly globalized world.
This tendency is seen by many analysts as part of the explanation for strong support for the far-right party Marine Le Pen, whose rhetoric is colored by nostalgia for the past.
Since World War II, French governments have always had a strong industrial policy that has seen the promotion and protection of national masters compete with “les anglo-saxons” in Britain and America.
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Sanofi, the only remaining large French pharmaceutical group, has come under heavy public criticism, especially in May last year when CEO Paul Hudson – a British citizen – said the United States would have first access to a future vaccine because it invested more in research. .
His words started a storm in France, and the company’s executives were duly called by President Macron and his ministers.
Sanofi followed up this PR disaster at home by announcing 1,700 job cuts a month later, including 1,000 in France.
The vaccine flops come at the height of a pandemic that has shaken the confidence of many of the world’s richest nations and revealed a lack of preparedness and large gaps in their manufacturing capacity.
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In the midst of self-criticism and introspection, some experts and politicians have called on France to avoid taking the vaccine jaws too hard.
Chance plays an important role in pioneering research, as evidenced by the work of the most famous French researchers from Pasteur to Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.
Nathalie Coutinet, a medical researcher at the Sorbonne University in Paris, said that many different approaches were taken by researchers around the world in the Covid struggle.
The Pasteur Institute focused on adapting a measles vaccine to fight Covid, while Sanofi tried to adjust one of its flu jabs – just for a lab error to throw it off track.
The most successful approach among Western researchers turned out to be “messenger RNA”, which was used by the German biotechnology group BioNTech and Moderna, whose jabs have been approved.
“If everyone had chosen RNS Messenger and it had not worked, we would have said it was stupid,” Coutinet told AFP.
( Jowharwith AFP)