• Sanofi is expanding a partnership with Translate Bio, a small Massachusetts biotech company, to develop a coronavirus vaccine using Translate's technology platform, the companies said Friday.
  • Translate specializes in messenger RNA (mRNA), a genetic platform that has yet to yield any approved medicines but has shown promise in quickly developing vaccine candidates.
  • Other biotechs working on mRNA coronavirus vaccines include Moderna , CureVac , and BioNTech, which recently partnered with Pfizer .
  • Sanofi and Translate are aiming to start human testing of a vaccine as soon as the end of this year, a Sanofi spokesperson told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

A big pharma company is once again teaming up with a smaller biotechnology company to work on a coronavirus vaccine.

The French drugmaking giant Sanofi announced Friday it has expanded an existing collaboration with Translate Bio, a Massachusetts-based biotech, to develop a coronavirus vaccine. The companies didn't disclose financial details of their partnership.

Translate Bio is one of a few biotechs that specializes in messenger RNA (mRNA) drugs and vaccines. The genetic platform allows for speedy development that blows past traditional timelines for creating vaccines.

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Instead of using viruses or proteins in a vaccine, mRNA works with just the genetic material from DNA that makes proteins. There are no mRNA vaccines that have reached market yet, although several for various diseases are now being tested in humans.

The first potential coronavirus vaccines are already being tested in people

Other biotechs using mRNA platforms to develop coronavirus vaccines include Moderna, BioNTech, CureVac, and Arcturus Therapeutics. Moderna's vaccine candidate began clinical testing earlier this month , although leading US health officials have said it will take at least a year to know if it is safe and effective.

Read more: There are more than 40 potential coronavirus vaccines in the works. Here are the top efforts to watch, including the 8 vaccines set to be tested in people this year.

Sanofi is also developing another coronavirus vaccine, building off a previous candidate designed for the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. That program is in collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and uses a different technology that has been proven to work in influenza.

"We believe the more approaches we explore, the better our likelihood of success in achieving this goal," said David Loew, Sanofi's global head of vaccines.

Sanofi's vaccine won't be ready for testing until late 2020 or early 2021

But even with two vaccine efforts now in motion, Sanofi has put out some of the slowest timeframes in the industry for a coronavirus vaccine to reach the clinic. Company executives have estimated the vaccine it's working on with BARDA won't begin human testing until early 2021.

mRNA vaccines have featured some of the quickest timelines to reaching the clinic. But a Sanofi spokesperson told Business Insider the goal with Translate is to start human testing toward the end of 2020 or in early 2021.

Similar vaccine projects by BioNTech and CureVac are both aiming to begin human testing within the next three months.

Translate will lead on discovery, design, and manufacturing several vaccine candidates. Sanofi will then help test those candidates to select which are most promising for further research.

Sanofi and Translate first entered a collaboration in 2018 to develop other infectious disease vaccines.

Read more: The US is sprinting to develop a coronavirus vaccine or treatment. Here's how 12 top drugmakers are racing to tackle the pandemic.

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