PARIS — France's Pasteur Institute last week abandoned its project to develop a coronavirus vaccine with the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck, marking the latest setback for French efforts in a global race dependent on scientific knowledge, money and, not least, a large portion of luck.

Increasingly, though, the French worry that bad luck had little or nothing to do with it.

French-led vaccine projects were considered among the most promising in the world early last year. Now, with the Pasteur Institute vaccine halted and a separate candidate from the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline significantly delayed, lawmakers across the spectrum here are framing the setbacks as a sign of decline in the birth country of Louis Pasteur, one of the founders of modern vaccination.

“What a symbol!” the left-wing politician Bastien Lachaud wrote.

The center-right Republicans party said the developments represented a “scientific downgrading.”

Even though both ill-fated projects were collaborative efforts involving other countries, the failure so far to develop any homegrown vaccine has become emblematic of the “feeling that France has lost its power, its capacity for innovation and research,” said Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at Sciences Po in Paris.

“In our country, the theme of ‘the greatness of France’ is often embodied in technological successes,” he said.

In an interview with several international publications, French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday acknowledged some shortcomings in the vaccine effort. “How do we do good science as quickly as possible? The Americans did this very well, much better than us,” he said, calling the European approach more risk-averse.

Certainly, France’s scientific greatness has not been much in evidence here in recent weeks.

After Sanofi and GSK acknowledged their main vaccine was less effective than anticipated, delaying its possible rollout until the end of the year, Sanofi said last week that it will now help its competitors BioNTech and Pfizer produce their vaccine amid a shortfall in production capacity. The announcement came after the French government urged the company to assist its rivals in what some saw as a positive sign for vaccine cooperation, even as others noted the stark change in Sanofi’s fortunes and a sense of defeat among French researchers.

As if to prove the point of those arguing that the French setbacks aren’t a coincidence, Sanofi announced Jan. 18 that it planned to cut 400 research and development jobs. The government responded the same day, vowing to prevent the layoffs. But research groups say the move is only a drop in the bucket in a country where long-standing structural problems have led to declines in academic funding and competitiveness, which have only recently been the focus of restructuring under Macron.

In a statement, the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation said “the strengthening of collaborations between public research and businesses,” among other efforts to boost innovation, has been a priority during Macron’s tenure. France has also launched several initiatives to boost spending on public research and private partnerships in the coming years.

But a report released by the French Council of Economic Analysis (CAE) last week concluded that despite those efforts, the country still faces a “significant delay” in catching up with pharmaceutical advances elsewhere, including in the United States, Britain and Germany, where researchers have developed effective coronavirus vaccines.

Neighboring Germany, where BioNTech is headquartered, dedicates over twice as much annual public funding as France to health research and development. Whereas funding rose by more than 10 percent in Germany and Britain between 2011 and 2018, it decreased by almost a third in France, according to the CAE.

Shortfalls in public spending haven’t been made up for by private funding, which remains less common in France than in the United States. The kind of collaboration between universities and private companies that has proved effective in Britain is also less advanced in France — a particular challenge for start-ups.

“There’s just a lot of pushback to even small changes,” said Margaret Kyle, one of the authors of the CAE report and an economist at Mines ParisTech.

While a large number of scientists graduate from French universities, relatively low salaries have driven many to later go abroad. There had been few attempts until recently to amend the country’s academic pay structure, which prioritizes equality with colleagues on the same career level and has made it hard to hire internationally.

“It might be great for philosophers in France, but it's terrible for other fields where there’s more of a global market,” Kyle said.

The French are also well aware that the chief executive of the U.S. biotech company Moderna, whose coronavirus vaccine was approved for use in the European Union this month, is a compatriot. And that the French recipient of the Nobel Prize in chemistry last year, Emmanuelle Charpentier, left for the United States after finishing her studies in France and now works in Berlin.

“It is not acceptable that our best researchers . . . are sucked up by the American system,” François Bayrou, a close ally of Macron, said last week.

But luring researchers back home might require far-reaching changes.

For instance, France mostly limits its support for research conducted by private companies to tax credits — an approach unlikely to speed up promising projects as needed during a pandemic. When the France-based vaccine start-up Valneva tried to obtain quick government funding last year, the response was disappointing, its co-founder recalled recently.

“What we needed was to secure funding in July to begin the construction of the plant and to launch clinical trials. And it was the United Kingdom which reacted the fastest,” said Franck Grimaud, according to French broadcaster Europe 1. The start-up has since agreed to supply Britain with up to 190 million doses of its vaccine, which it hopes might be ready in the second half of this year, even though it is still in Phase 1 and 2 trials.

Researchers caution that the problems exposed by the pandemic will be difficult to resolve.

“Changing the research culture in France, that takes a long time,” Kyle said.

In fact, there were early signs of the challenges now besetting France.

As long ago as 2005, a parliamentary report on biotechnology warned, “France is showing signs of faltering in the fields of public and private research, innovation, and the creation of companies, particularly with respect to the United States.” But such warnings were frequently dismissed, even as other countries pulled ahead with the investments in biotechnology that allowed Pfizer and BioNTech to speedily produce last year a coronavirus vaccine that utilizes a gene-editing tool.

France’s Sanofi has played catch-up on the biotechnology front in recent years, teaming with Britain’s GSK to develop the protein-based vaccine that has now been delayed. But in a sign of how much the company has depended on U.S. funding, Sanofi’s chief executive initially suggested that the United States would get access to its vaccine first — before changing course under pressure from the French government.

With a presidential election coming up next year, the worries about whether France’s scientific heyday has passed are unlikely to fade.

Some aren’t giving up on the country just yet. “The theme of France's ‘health independence’ is making a strong comeback in the public debate,” Cautrès, the Sciences Po researcher, said. “There is no doubt that Emmanuel Macron will want to learn from these setbacks.”