Sanofi's latest vaccine plan? A €400M Singapore factory full of 'boundary-pushing' tech

Sanofi has so far made a combined investment of €1 billion in its global vaccine production network this year. (Sanofi)

You've heard of blockbuster sales. Now, Sanofi has racked up a blockbuster series of investments in its worldwide vaccine manufacturing network.

Sanofi rounded out the first quarter of 2021 with a €600 million investment in a new flu shot factory in Canada. Now, the drugmaker is pouring €400 million more into its global vaccine network, bringing its total investment up to €1 billion so far this year—a whopping $1.2 billion.

Over the next five years, Sanofi will plug that €400 million into a new vaccine production site in Singapore, poised to boost supply in Asia and complement the drugmaker's existing manufacturing footprint in Europe and North America. 

The site, "pushing the boundaries of operations" thanks to cutting-edge manufacturing and digital technologies, will be equipped to respond to future pandemics, too, Sanofi said in a release.

Sanofi didn't name the vaccines it plans to make there, but it's shooting for a range of products, both current and yet-to-be-approved.

"This new factory will produce various antigens (or drug substances) of different nature, including antigens from Sanofi’s existing portfolio as well as new antigens ... under development," a company spokesperson said via email.

The site is "meant to host various manufacturing technology platforms," and "will produce antigens for our commercial range of vaccines and clinical material to support the clinical development of our new vaccines," he said. The site will also chip in on the commercial launch of new vaccines. 

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As for the new tech, the plant will feature a central unit equipped with several fully digitized modules that will allow Sanofi to turn out three or four vaccines at once, versus the one it can make now at its current industrial sites.

The factory will feature two suites at max capacity, each designed to churn out 100 to 150 drug substance batches per year, according to the specific mix of antigens being produced, the spokesperson added. 

The Singapore site will also leverage manufacturing platforms based on a range of cell types, Sanofi said. This "modularity" and flex should help Sanofi quickly pivot to produce a specific vaccine in the event of a public health emergency, the company said. 

The site marks Sanofi's first digitally-enabled vaccine plant in Asia, too, Beh Swan Gin, chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board, added, noting that the move "is an endorsement of Singapore’s position as a leading center for advanced manufacturing."

Sanofi already employs more than 500 in the country, according to the drugmaker's website. 

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The project is now entering the design phase, with construction expected to kick off in the third quarter of 2021. The site should be fully operational by the first quarter of 2026 and will create up to 200 jobs in Singapore over the next five years, Sanofi said. 

The project marks Sanofi's second vaccine push this year. In late March, the company said it would lay out €600 million ($715 million) for a flu shot factory in Toronto, slated to produce its Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, which contains four times more antigen than standard-dose vaccines. When it opens in 2026, the plant will supply shots to Canada, Europe and the U.S. 

Sanofi's flu vaccine business is booming, in fact. Sales hit €2.5 billion worldwide in 2020—a hefty 38% increase from 2019 at constant exchange rates. 

On the COVID-19 front, Sanofi continues to plug away on its GlaxoSmithKline-partnered vaccine, despite a significant delay last year. Sanofi says that program could be ready to launch by late 2021; in the meantime, the pharma major has offered up a formulation and filling site in France to Johnson & Johnson, and agreed to turn out more than 125 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's mRNA-based vaccine for the European market. 

Editor's note: This story was corrected to note that Sanofi will help Pfizer and BioNTech produce more than 125 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.