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French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he delivers a speech at French drugmaker's vaccine unit Sanofi Pasteur plant, in Marcy-l'Etoile, near Lyon, France on June 16, 2020.

POOL/The Associated Press

France’s president and top drugmaker announced plans on Tuesday to bolster domestic production of medicines as countries scramble to strengthen their healthcare industries to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

Drugmaker Sanofi, which is working on two potential coronavirus vaccines, said it would invest $679 million at two French sites to turn them into a hub dedicated to research, development and production of vaccines.

Speaking at Sanofi’s Marcy-L’Etoile facility, President Emmanuel Macron also pledged €200 million to help domestic research and manufacturing of medicines and said his government would announce plans on Thursday to bring back certain pharmaceutical production facilities to France.

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“Everybody saw that during this crisis some commonly used drugs were no longer produced in France and Europe. So we must no longer just ask questions, but draw the conclusions,” Macron said at the Sanofi site near Lyon, central France.

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus which has killed more than 431,000 globally. Drugmakers across the world are rushing to address that, while governments in turn are jostling to try to ensure they will be in line for supplies.

The issue has become particularly sensitive in France after Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson signaled in May that Europe was being too slow in supporting work on a vaccine and hinted U.S. patients might get any vaccine it develops first, given Washington had provided more funding.

Although Sanofi quickly back-pedaled, promising a vaccine would be made available worldwide simultaneously, the comments raised alarm over Europe’s lack of coordination.

In the latest sign European countries are now trying to catch up, a group formed by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands struck a deal on Saturday to secure 400 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential vaccine.

The European Commission, meanwhile, received a mandate from EU governments on Friday to negotiate advance purchases of up to six vaccines using proceeds of an emergency fund of $2.7 billion.

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