Sanofi to invest in mRNA vaccines development

Sanofi to invest in mRNA vaccines development
Paris-based company Sanofi will invest about 400 million euros annually in research and development of next-generation vaccines using mRNA technologies, which proved efficiency in Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 jabs. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2021

Sanofi to invest in mRNA vaccines development

Sanofi to invest in mRNA vaccines development
  • Sanofi has pledged to help Pfizer and Moderna manufacture COVID-19 shots
  • mRNA technology has proven effective and safe so far in the vaccine response to COVID-19

PARIS: Sanofi will invest about 400 million euros ($476 million) annually in research and development of next-generation vaccines using mRNA technologies, which proved their efficiency in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 jabs.
Sanofi added on Tuesday that its “mRNA Center of Excellence” will bring together around 400 employees based at existing sites close to Lyon in southern France and in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is expected to produce a minimum of six clinical candidates by 2025.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, mRNA technologies demonstrated potential to deliver new vaccines faster than ever before,” said Jean-Francois Toussaint, global head of R&D at Sanofi Pasteur, the company’s vaccines division.
“However, key areas of innovation such as thermos-stability and tolerability improvements will be critical to unlock the applications of mRNA in routine vaccination against a broader set of infectious diseases and across all ages,” he added.
The French drug company and its British counterpart GlaxoSmithKline disappointed investors and customers late last year when they announced a one-year delay to the launch of their joint COVID vaccine, based on a more conventional technology.
Sanofi has since pledged to help Pfizer and Moderna manufacture COVID-19 shots in an effort to help meet the huge demand for the US drugmaker’s doses.
The mRNA technology has proven both effective and safe so far in the vaccine response to COVID-19, including in response to the virus’ variants.
The latest one, the Delta variant first found in India, is spreading at a fast rate around the world, prompting governments to accelerate their vaccinations programs.
French Health Minister Oliver Veran said on Tuesday that the Delta variant represented some 20 percent of COVID cases in France.
Sanofi is also working on a mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate with US company Translate Bio, for which it has started clinical trials.
The two groups, which have been collaborating since 2018, have also started a Phase I clinical trial earlier this year evaluating an mRNA-based investigational vaccine against seasonal influenza.
Last month, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline launched a late-stage human trial for their COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which they hope to get approved by the end of 2021.


Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort

Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort
Updated 24 sec ago

Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort

Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort
VIENNA: A civil trial opened Friday in Austria over the government’s handling of a coronavirus outbreak at an Alpine ski resort during the early stages of the pandemic that relatives say resulted in unnecessary infections and deaths.
Sieglinde and Ullrich Schopf, the widow and son of a 72-year-old Austrian man who died of COVID-19 after becoming infected in Ischgl, are seeking about 100,000 euros ($117,000) compensation from the government. Their is seen as a test case for a larger class action suit involving hundreds of people who fell ill with COVID-19 following a trip to the Paznaun valley in February and March 2020.
The family is supported by Austria’s Consumer Protection Association, which said it is open to a negotiated settlement.
The outbreak in Ischgl, a popular resort in western Austria, is considered one of Europe’s earliest “super-spreader” events of the pandemic.
“Stopping people from leaving and arriving in the Paznaun valley or at least issuing a travel warning — the authorities failed to do that,” said Alexander Klauser, a lawyer representing the Schopf family. “Thousands of people left the Paznaun valley unhindered, thousands of people arrived without a clue that they were in danger.”
An independent commission last year concluded that authorities in the Tyrol region acted too slowly to shut down ski resorts in the valley after it became clear they were dealing with one of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreaks in March. But the panel didn’t find evidence that political or business pressure played a role in the decisions.
Klauser, the lawyer, said that even after authorities issued a directive to close apres-ski bars it wasn’t enforced strongly enough.
“Open air mass gatherings which were forbidden according to the directive continued,” he said. “The police just watched on without doing anything.”

Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis

Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis
Updated 17 September 2021

Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis

Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis

TOKYO: Japanese Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu on Friday condemned Houthi attacks earlier this month on Saudi Arabia.

“On September 4, a missile attack in the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia was launched and repeated transporter attacks by Houthis against Saudi Arabia have been carried out. We strongly condemn such actions,” Motegi told Arab News Japan at a press conference.

Motegi stressed that the Japanese government was attempting to help in negotiations in order for a truce to be reached between the Houthis and various other parties.

“We very much support the activity by Ambassador Grandberg, Special Envoy for Yemen of the United Nations, and various other initiatives to end the disputes in Yemen and in the international community,” Motegi said.

The Japanese minister said during his recent visit to the Middle East, he more firmly supported a peaceful truce in Yemen.

Motegi said Japan will continue to collaborate with the relevant countries within and outside of the Middle East to achieve peace and security in Yemen.

“Ninety percent of the crude oil arriving in Japan comes from the Middle East and from such perspective peace and stability in the region is of crucial importance for Japan.”


Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station

Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station
Updated 17 September 2021

Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station

Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station
  • The three astronauts emerged about 30 minutes later and were seated in reclining chairs just outside the capsule
  • State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi Desert

BEIJING: A trio of Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday after a 90-day stay aboard their nation’s first space station in China’s longest mission yet.
Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo landed in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship just after 1:30 p.m. (0530 GMT) after having undocked from the space station Thursday morning.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi Desert where it was met by helicopters and off-road vehicles. Minutes later, a crew of technicians began opening the hatch of the capsule, which appeared undamaged.
The three astronauts emerged about 30 minutes later and were seated in reclining chairs just outside the capsule to allow them time to readjust to Earth’s gravity after three months of living in a weightless environment. The three were due to fly to Beijing on Friday.
“With China’s growing strength and the rising level of Chinese technology, I firmly believe there will even more astronauts who will set new records,” mission commander Nie told CCTV.
After launching on June 17, the three astronauts went on two spacewalks, deployed a 10-meter (33-foot) mechanical arm, and had a video call with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
While few details have been made public by China’s military, which runs the space program, astronaut trios are expected to be brought on 90-day missions to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.
The government has not announced the names of the next set of astronauts nor the launch date of Shenzhou-13.
China has sent 14 astronauts into space since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own.
China’s space program has advanced at a measured pace and has largely avoided many of the problems that marked the US and Russian programs that were locked in intense competition during the heady early days of spaceflight.
That has made it a source of enormous national pride, complementing the country’s rise to economic, technological, military and diplomatic prominence in recent years under the firm rule of the Communist Party and current leader Xi Jinping.
China embarked on its own space station program in the 1990s after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to US objections to the Chinese space program’s secrecy and military backing.
China has simultaneously pushed ahead with uncrewed missions, placing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and, in December, the Chang’e 5 probe returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
China this year also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, with its accompanying Zhurong rover venturing out to look for evidence of life.
Another program calls for collecting samples from an asteroid, an area in which Japan’s rival space program has made progress of late.
China also plans to dispatch another mission in 2024 to bring back lunar samples and is pursuing a possible crewed mission to the moon and eventually building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.


Jakarta residents win landmark air pollution case against Indonesian president

Jakarta residents win landmark air pollution case against Indonesian president
Updated 17 September 2021

Jakarta residents win landmark air pollution case against Indonesian president

Jakarta residents win landmark air pollution case against Indonesian president
  • Jakarta, home to over 10 million people, is one the world's most-polluted cities with the concentration of PM2.5 regularly exceeding WHO norms
  • Citizen lawsuit was filed by Jakarta residents in July 2019 against the president and six other top government officials

JAKARTA: A Jakarta court on Thursday found Indonesian President Joko Widodo and government officials guilty of neglecting their obligation to fulfill citizens' rights to clean air, in a landmark lawsuit residents hope will force authorities to act on the capital city's notorious pollution.

Jakarta, home to over 10 million people, is one the world's most-polluted cities with the concentration of PM2.5 — inhalable microscopic pollution particularly harmful to human health — regularly exceeding World Health Organization norms, often manifold.

The citizen lawsuit was filed in July 2019 by 32 plaintiffs against the president, ministers of environment, home affairs and health, as well as the governor of Jakarta and two leaders of neighboring provinces. The plaintiffs, including activists and people suffering from pollution-related diseases, did not request compensation but tighter air quality checks.

In a hearing that took place after being adjourned eight times since May, the court ruled the officials had violated environmental protection laws and failed to combat air pollution in the capital and its satellite cities that fall under jurisdiction of Banten and West Java provinces.

“We ordered the first defendant (the president) to tighten the national air quality standard that is sufficient based on science and technology to protect humans’ health, the environment, the ecosystem, including the health of the sensitive population,” presiding judge Saifuddin Zuhri said.

The court also ordered the second defendant, the environment minister, to supervise the governors of Jakarta, Banten, and West Java in tightening transboundary emissions.

Transboundary pollution from Banten and West Java contributes to the poor and deteriorating quality of Jakarta's air. In 2018, national capital witnessed 101 days with unhealthy air, and 172 in 2019, according to the Center on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). The main contributors to PM2.5 pollution are dozens of industrial facilities and coal power plants located less than 100 kilometers from the city.

Jeanny Sirait, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs said they welcomed the verdict, even though the court did not explicitly rule the government had violated the right to clean but only contravened the law by failing to fulfill it.

"This is a breakthrough verdict," she said. "It is very rare to find judges that have environmental and public interest perspectives."
 

A train moves down its track as the hazy city skyline is seen in the background in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sept. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana) 

One of the plaintiffs, Istu Prayogi, a 56-year-old tourism lecturer who health has suffered due to air pollution told Arab News he was glad for the victory, although slightly disappointed that the officials' negligence was not classified as a human rights violation.

“We now have a hope for all people to get their rights to clean air fulfilled," he said. "We have a legal standing to oblige the government to do that, even though they should have fulfilled that in the first place, but this is a court ruling and as a rule-based country, it’s the highest order.”

Another plaintiff and environmental activist Khalisah Khalid said the verdict was also an example that court can be an avenue for citizens who seek justice.

“As plaintiffs and regular citizens, we will continue to monitor the defendants to make changes in the government policies as mandated by the verdict," she said. "It is for everyone’s interests, health, and safety including our future generations to have a good quality of life."


‘Great power rivalry’ fuels Pacific arms race frenzy

‘Great power rivalry’ fuels Pacific arms race frenzy
Updated 17 September 2021

‘Great power rivalry’ fuels Pacific arms race frenzy

‘Great power rivalry’ fuels Pacific arms race frenzy
  • China accounts for about half of Asia’s total and has increased defense spending every year for the last 26 years
  • But defense spending in Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere is also gathering pace

SYDNEY, Australia: A quick barrage of missile tests and bumper defense deals in the Pacific have highlighted a regional arms race that is intensifying as the China-US rivalry grows.
“There’s a little frenzy in the Indo-Pacific of arming up,” said Yonsei University professor John Delury. “There’s a sense of everyone’s doing it.”
Within 24 hours this week, North Korea fired off two railway-borne weapons, South Korea successfully tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, and Australia announced the unprecedented purchase of state-of-the-art US nuclear-powered submarines and cruise missiles.
A remarkable flurry, but indicative of a region spending apace on the latest wonders of modern weaponry, experts say.
Last year alone, the Asia and Oceania region lavished more than half a trillion US dollars on its militaries, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“You’ve really seen an upward trend for the last 20 years,” the institute’s Lucie Beraud-Sudreau told AFP. “Asia is really the region where the uptick trend is the most noticeable.”
She points to a perfect storm of rapid economic growth — which puts more money in the government kitties — and changing “threat perceptions” in the region.

China accounts for about half of Asia’s total and has increased defense spending every year for the last 26 years, turning the People’s Liberation Army into a modern fighting force.
Beijing now spends an estimated $252 billion a year — up 76 percent since 2011 — allowing it to project power across the region and directly challenge US primacy.
But defense spending in Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere is also gathering pace.
Michael Shoebridge, a former Australian defense intelligence official, now with the Australia Strategic Policy Institute, believes that spending is a direct reaction to China.
“The actual military competition is between China and other partners that are wanting to deter China from using force,” he said.
“That reaction has just grown, particularly since Xi (Jinping) has become leader. He’s clearly interested in using all the power that China gains fairly coercively and aggressively.”
Today around 20 percent of the region’s defense spending is on procurement, notably on maritime assets and long-range deterrence designed to convince Beijing — or any another adversary — that the cost of attack is too high.

File photo showing the USS Florida Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine launching a Tomahawk cruise missile during Giant Shadow in the waters off the coast of the Bahamas. (US Navy photo via AFP))

Shoebridge points to Australia’s landmark decision Thursday to acquire at least eight US nuclear-powered submarines and an unspecified number of Tomahawk cruise missiles.
“They’re all focused on raising the cost to China of engaging in military conflict. They’re a pretty effective counter to the kinds of capabilities the PLA has been building.”
But even South Korean spending “is as much driven by China as North Korea,” he said. “There’s no explanation for (Seoul’s decision to build) an aircraft carrier that involves North Korea.”
Similarly, “India’s military modernization is clearly driven by China’s growing military power,” Shoebridge added.
For its part China — fond of describing its relationship with the United States as “great power rivalry” — accuses the United States of fueling the arms race.
In the words of state-backed tabloid the Global Times, Washington is “hysterically polarizing its alliance system.”
If fear of China is the driving force behind regional defense spending, then the United States has appeared happy to speed the process along, actively helping regional allies to beef up.
As China and Japan were “blazing forward” with defense programs, Delury says Washington has been “aiding and abetting” allies “in the name of deterring China.”
“We’re not seeing arms control here, we’re seeing the opposite,” he said.