At least a dozen other drugmakers are currently working on vaccines or antivirals and other treatments to help those infected with the fast-spreading deadly virus, with some antivirals already being used in clinical trials.
Sanofi said on Tuesday it had teamed up with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the U.S. Health Department.
It intends to further investigate an advanced pre-clinical vaccine candidate previously developed against the SARS virus in the early 2000s, which it believes could protect against the latest coronavirus.
Financial details of the partnership were not disclosed.
"We are calculating that we are going to have a vaccine candidate available for in vitro testing within less than six months and potentially enter clinical trials within a year or a year and a half," David Loew, Sanofi's global head of vaccines, told journalists.
Loew said Sanofi would operate a DNA platform it already uses for the development of vaccines to treat the flu, a disease for which the company has a well-established expertise.
To move vaccine candidates from the lab to widespread use in patients involves a number of hurdles, according to health experts and executives for drugmakers working on coronavirus vaccines and treatments.
In addition to scaling up manufacturing capacity and building distribution networks, there are regulatory obstacles such as conducting large clinical trials to make sure a vaccine not only confers immunity to the virus but is safe for use in the general population.
Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday said it will work with the BARDA to look for potential antiviral drugs for the coronavirus, expanding on a partnership it announced last week to develop a vaccine against the outbreak.
China reported on Tuesday its fewest new coronavirus infections since January and its lowest daily death toll for a week, but the World Health Organization said data suggesting the epidemic had slowed should still be viewed with caution.
(Reporting by Matthias Blamont, additional reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Sarah White, Susan Fenton and Shailesh Kuber)