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Baidu in partnership with Sanofi to use its algorithm in mRNA vaccine, therapy development

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese tech giant Baidu Inc said on Monday it has licensed its algorithm for messenger RNA (mRNA) sequence to Sanofi SA for use in designing vaccine and therapeutic products, entering its first such commercial deal with a major global drugmaker.

Sanofi had been one of the world's biggest vaccine makers before the pandemic, but the French firm was beaten by rivals BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna in developing mRNA shots against COVID-19.

Sanofi stopped trials of its own mRNA COVID-19 shot in September, and is instead focusing on efforts with GlaxoSmithKline to bring another COVID-19 vaccine candidate to market based on the more conventional protein-based approach.

The French group said https://www.sanofi.com/en/our-covid-19-vaccine-candidates/mrna-vaccine it would focus its mRNA resources on other infectious diseases and therapeutics with strong unmet need.

Baidu will receive milestone payments when any mRNA-based therapy or vaccine candidate discovered by Sanofi using its algorithm enters clinical trials, said Huang Liang, a Baidu scientist leading the project.

"The fact that this agreement includes milestone payments shows that [Sanofi] has great confidence in bringing candidates developed with Baidu algorithm into clinical trials and to the market," Huang told Reuters. He declined to disclose the size of the deal.

An mRNA-based vaccine contains mRNA sequence which instructs human cells to produce proteins that can spur the immune system into action.

Baidu's algorithm is designed to deliver a larger number of optimised mRNA sequences and there are early signs that it could be more suitable than standard algorithms in vaccine and therapeutic drug development, Huang said.

Specifically regarding COVID-19 vaccine candidates, those containing mRNA sequences generated by Baidu's algorithm were more stable and appeared to require a smaller dosage than a baseline shot based on a standard algorithm, according to lab studies and animal tests https://arxiv.org/abs/2004.10177, which haven't gone through peer-review.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)