Sanofi starts on viral vector facility as its R&D focus shifts to gene therapies

Sanofi biologics vials
Sanofi, which last week opened a highly sophisticated biologics plant, is also retrofitting a vaccine plant to make viral vectors. (Sanofi)

Sanofi is playing catch-up in gene therapy, but new CEO Paul Hudson is taking quick steps to close the gap. A reorganization of the R&D unit is intended to pivot the drugmaker toward immuno-oncology drugs and gene therapies. And to hasten the transition, the company is retrofitting a vaccine plant in France into a gene therapy manufacturing operation.

A spokesman Monday confirmed Sanofi is preparing teams at its Lyon-Gerland site to work on vector-based gene therapies. John Reed, Sanofi's head of R&D, spoke about the project in an interview with BioPharma Dive. The drugmaker expects the facility to be operational a year from now.

RELATED: Sanofi quits Voyager gene therapy deal once worth up to $845M

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Sanofi has invested about €25 million in the Lyon-Gerland site over the last five years. In 2013, the drugmaker struck a deal with France's Transgene to share the cost of a €10 million facility there to manufacture Transgene's immuno-oncology therapies. 

The Lyon vaccine facility is being retrofitted even as Sanofi this summer reworked its gene therapy partnership with Voyager Therapeutics. Sanofi dumped two programs it has started with Voyager, and now the two will develop adeno-associated virus capsids —the protein shells of the virus—for the delivery of gene therapies. Sanofi gets the exclusive option to use these capsids to deliver treatments for up to two non-CNS diseases.

RELATED: Sanofi U.S. plant sets new bar for biologics production

The project also comes as Sanofi has been upgrading other parts of its manufacturing network for the future. Last week, it opened a new biologics plant in Massachusetts that it considers its prototype plant of the future. In the digitally enabled manufacturing facility, all manufacturing stages are controlled through analytical processes that are forecast to avoid variations.

Plant operators also have access to data analytics or augmented reality solutions that can help them make real-time decisions and adjustments. Sanofi said the remade plant is 80 times more productive while also reducing energy use and emissions by 80%. 

As for gene therapy production, Sanofi is following other companies such bluebird bio and Gilead’s Kite Pharma in building viral vector manufacturing facilities to serve their gene therapy or CAR-T development programs, which are much further along than Sanofi's.

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