Consumers faced an array of choices going into the current flu season, with quadrivalent vaccines being sold alongside high-dosage varieties and vaccines produced without eggs. Fourth-quarter results suggest people have taken up the new options, with sales at AstraZeneca ($AZN), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Sanofi ($SNY) soaring.
The three companies were the only manufacturers to sell quadrivalent flu vaccines--which protect against four strains, as opposed to the usual three--in the U.S. this winter. Each attributed the rollout of their new, premium-priced vaccines as a driving force behind a year-on-year jump in sales. In the fourth quarter, flu vaccine sales were up 56% at AstraZeneca, 76% at GSK and 94% at Sanofi. The surge follows a quarter in which performance ranged from a slight dip at Sanofi to a 30% rise at AstraZeneca, suggesting the latest results were caused by more than just the timing of orders.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows quadrivalent flu vaccines command a significant price premium over their trivalent predecessors. Sanofi increased the amount charged to private sector buyers by 34%, while GSK upped its price by 45%. Both manufacturers could see sales grow in the coming flu seasons as they cut production of the cheaper trivalent vaccines. The trivalent vaccine accounted for 59% of Sanofi's U.S. flu vaccine sales last year. AstraZeneca was the only company to stop selling trivalent vaccines in the U.S. after winning approval for its quadrivalent version.
The next step for AstraZeneca is to start selling its quadrivalent vaccine in Europe, which approved the product for use in children and adolescents in December. GSK also has clearance in Germany and the United Kingdom. In contrast, Sanofi has withdrawn its European application so it can update the pharmaceutical section. As part of the changes--which were requested by regulators--Sanofi will seek approval across an expanded age range. The new application will cover kids aged 3 years old and up, compared to 9 years of age in the original filing.
While the withdrawal puts Sanofi a step behind AstraZeneca and GSK in Europe, the France-based company has built a strong position in the U.S. Sanofi claims its strategy of introducing a range of flu vaccines targeting different populations has helped it capture 50% of the U.S. market. As well as its trivalent and quadrivalent flu vaccines, Sanofi sells a high-dose version for the elderly and an intradermally delivered product. The quadrivalent vaccine is central to the strategy. Fourth-quarter vaccine and diagnostic sales at Novartis ($NVS), which didn't launch a quadrivalent vaccine, were up 4%.