Sanofi pumps $554M into new vaccine manufacturing facility in eastern France

The coronavirus pandemic has shown just how much time, effort and cash are required to scale up for new vaccine production. Sanofi is trying to get a head start on that for the next pandemic—and supply its current vaccines at the same time.

Sanofi will spend $554 million to build a "state-of-the-art" vaccine manufacturing facility at Neuville sur Saône directly to the north of Lyons, the French drugmaker said in a release.

The new facility, dubbed Sanofi's Evolutive Vaccine Facility (EVF), will be built out over five years and eventually employ 200, Sanofi said.

Sanofi plans to use the facility and its capacity to manufacture doses of three or four separate vaccines at one time to help supply its Sanofi Pasteur unit in case of future pandemics. The EVF will employ multiple modular production facilities built around a central hub to help produce rounds of multiple vaccines simultaneously and quickly switch to mono-production in the event of a pandemic, Sanofi said.

Sanofi Pasteur's newest facility will add to its 12 global manufacturing facilities currently in operation, including three French sites at Neuville sur Saône, Marcy-l'Étoile and Val-de-Reuil.

Sanofi will pair its investment in the new Neuville sur Saône site with a $136 million order for a new vaccine R&D facility in Marcy-l'Étoile that it hopes will become "a world reference for pre-clinical research and pharmaceutical and clinical development," the drugmaker said in a release.

"By investing in a new industrial site and a R&D center, Sanofi positions France at the core of its strategy, aiming to make France a world-class center of excellence in vaccine research and production," Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson said in a statement.

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Sanofi's big infusion in France comes just days after Gary Nabel, Sanofi's chief scientific officer, sounded the alarm on the need for a "global biosecurity network" to be in place for future pandemics.

At the annual BIO meeting, Nabel blasted the pharmaceutical industry's "boom or bust" response to global pandemics, “where we throw resources and money at a problem when the horse is out of the barn."

In a separate BIO panel, Merck & Co. vaccine president John Markels said global vaccine manufacturing capacity was "more or less at capacity," posing a significant challenge when companies need to scale up for global immunization efforts for billions of people.

On that panel, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said health communities should build new factories to help deal with that capacity shortfall.

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With vaccine manufacturing currently stretched thin, future investments like the one Sanofi is making could provide flexibility and greater capacity for a future pandemic.

In the meantime, vaccine makers are looking high and low for the capacity to manufacture the billions of doses likely needed to combat the novel coronavirus outbreak. Bancel in May said it would likely take three or four successful vaccines to produce enough doses to meet global demand.

Moderna is one of many drugmakers chasing a COVID-19 shot, and its mRNA candidate has reportedly been named one of five "panelists" by the Trump administration for an emergency use approval and widespread distribution by the end of 2020. To aid in that effort, Moderna inked a 10-year supply partnership with Lonza in May, and the partners aim to make up to 1 billion vaccine doses per year.

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Meanwhile, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline agreed to co-develop and manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine that has seen Sanofi chipping in an S-protein COVID-19 antigen based on recombinant DNA tech, while GSK is contributing its "proven pandemic adjuvant technology," the drugmaker said in April.

The partners have a stated goal of reaching 1 billion doses per year for the vaccine, which they plan to manufacture at-risk before a full regulatory approval.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca, for its part, is touting its ability to provide 2 billion doses per year of the University of Oxford's adenovirus-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222, and has signed a suite of massive deals to reach that goal.

Monday, the EU announced it would pay $843 million to secure 300 million doses of Oxford's vaccine with an option for an additional 100 million doses.