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

Sanofi, which has been testing robots and new production methods, has finally pulled it all together into a near sentient manufacturing operation. Having successfully produced process qualification runs at its Framingham, Massachusetts plant, it says its next-generation biologics facility is now ready for prime time. 

The French drugmaker says the facility, which produces drugs for its specialty care portfolio, ties its R&D operations to manufacturing using what it calls “intensified, continuous biologics production technology.”

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“We have been investing for some years to prepare for Sanofi's future,” Philippe Luscan, Sanofi’s executive VP of global industrial affairs, said in a statement. “Our Framingham facility leads the way in delivering the next generation of biologics manufacturing…" 

A spokesman explained that in the digitally enabled manufacturing facility, all manufacturing stages are controlled through analytical processes that forecast and avoid variations. Plant operators have access to data analytics or augmented reality solutions, that can help them make real-time decisions and adjustments.

He said the remade plant is 80 times more productive and has the potential to manufacture drugs for two times the number of patients per year than a traditional factory, all in a smaller environmental footprint that cuts emissions and energy consumption by 80%.  

Sanofi has invested more than $5.51 billion on production over the last six or seven years, much of it on pilot projects to prepare its manufacturing operations to produce drugs like Dupixent, its injected treatment for treating asthma and eczema that it developed with Regeneron. 

But more new drugs are coming as it sharpens is development focus. It recently dumped more than 465 jobs in a reorganization of its R&D and given up some partnerships, including with Regeneron, as it moves away from cardiovascular diseases and toward immuno-oncology drugs and gene therapies.

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The Framingham plant, along with others, is being prepared for its new efforts. Next up are digital transformations at existing plants in Toronto, Canada; Suzano, Brazil; Waterford, Ireland; Sisteron, France; and Geel, Belgium.

Both the Framingham and Gael biologics plants currently use collaborative robots, or “cobots,” that work next to humans for some processes and autonomous mobile robots for moving ingredients and equipment. Gael has sensors that can take continuous data readings to generate more than 1 billion data points in every manufacturing cycle. Those can be analyzed to quickly spot and correct issues to keep yields high and to allow for predictive maintenance on equipment.

As it has been working on the plants, it also has been preparing workers. They have gone through training intended to instill them with what Sanofi has called a “digital mindset and capability.”