Sanofi CEO Hudson continues crusade for European pandemic muscle

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson
If manufacturing at pandemic scale is a roadblock to getting vaccines to patients, pharmas will need to partner with governments to turn out the necessary volume, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson said. (Sanofi)

Sanofi boasts a coronavirus vaccine project with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unit that helps propel research into emerging disease treatments and stockpiles for emergencies, and it's not the first time the French drugmaker has teamed with that agency.

Thing is, CEO Paul Hudson would like to forge similar projects on Sanofi's home continent—but Europe has no BARDA equivalent to fund R&D or help scale up manufacturing. And he's calling on authorities there to set one up, stat.

"Having many shots on goal increases the likelihood not only of finding a vaccine quickly, but also the chances of having more than one vaccine on the market. This is critical, as we’ll likely need billions of doses to make a difference," Hudson wrote in a Fortune commentary.

"If manufacturing at this scale is a roadblock, manufacturers will need to partner with governments and even competitors to achieve the volumes necessary."

In February, the drugmaker’s vaccine branch, Sanofi Pasteur, joined forces with BARDA to fast-track a COVID-19 vaccine. The company plans to leverage prior SARS vaccine research conducted by Protein Sciences—a biotech Sanofi acquired in 2017—and aims to have an experimental vaccine ready in six months. It'll be building manufacturing capacity along the way to supply hundreds of millions of doses.

Sanofi’s global head of vaccines, David Loew, said in a press release that the company was offering its expertise “where possible,” but the BARDA collaboration had the potential for “the most meaningful results in protecting the public from this latest outbreak.” 

Hudson says pandemic preparedness requires similar team-ups in Europe. “[BARDA wants] to make sure that they have inventory for their citizens,” the CEO said recently, adding, “We have to be a little bit more like that in Europe.”

Hudson’s suggestions come at a time when many pharmaceutical and medical supply executives are reconsidering their sources for drug ingredients and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). With so much of that supply dependent upon Asia, shortages from COVID-19 have brought the issue of national healthcare sovereignty “sharply into focus,” Hudson said.  

Backing up the chief executive’s statements, Loew said, “I would encourage the European Commission to start thinking about where we'll source, midterm, the capacity that we want to have. Today we don’t have enough installed capacity on European soil.”  

Sanofi has mounted other efforts to boost Europe’s drug manufacturing power recently. At the end of February, it announced plans to meld six sites across Europe into a massive standalone API producer. With a projected €1 billion in sales by 2022, Sanofi hopes the producer will both turn a profit and balance Europe’s heavy reliance on API sources from Asia.