Pumped by a big year for its flu shots, Sanofi lays out €600M for new vaccine manufacturing plant

Sanofi may not be at the forefront in COVID-19 vaccines, but in influenza, it's the biggest player—and as of now, getting even bigger.

The French drugmaker plans to splash out €600 million to build a new flu vaccine factory in Toronto to increase supply of its Fluzone High-Dose vaccine. The plant will turn out the vaccine, which contains four times more antigen than standard-dose vaccines, for Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Slated to open in 2026, the site will also help with influenza pandemic preparedness, a spokesman said. The manufacturing expansion is “part of our overall growth strategy of which vaccines will be a major contributor,” he added.

In a statement, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson said the company is looking “ahead to address the fast-growing demand" for its high-dose shot, which has "demonstrated clinical superiority against standard-dose vaccines.” The high-dose vaccine “provides a long-term competitive advantage" for the company, and the new factory will help supply more doses where they're needed, he added.

RELATED: Sanofi, despite COVID-19, sees early gains from CEO Hudson's strategy revamp

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanofi’s flu vaccine business has soared. Last year, the company’s influenza shots generated nearly €2.5 billion in worldwide sales, a 38% increase from 2019 at constant exchange rates. High demand and a “differentiated portfolio,” which includes the high-dose shot, drove growth, Sanofi said. Sanofi's high-dose shot targets four flu strains.

Vaccines are a top priority under Hudson’s strategy for the drugmaker's long-term growth, alongside its immunology blockbuster Dupixent.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanofi responded by teaming up with GlaxoSmithKline to develop an adjuvanted recombinant DNA vaccine. That program hit a setback last year that forced a significant delay, and now the partners are testing a reformulated shot. The program could be ready to launch by late 2021, Sanofi says.

RELATED: After Pfizer deal, Sanofi offers a hand to Johnson & Johnson for COVID-19 vaccine production

While the R&D program is advancing, Sanofi has offered manufacturing help for Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson's licensed shots. In late January, the company pledged to produce 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA shot for the European market in 2021.  

Then, a month later, Sanofi said it would allow J&J access to a site in France for formulation and vial filling. The site can turn out 12 million doses per month, Sanofi said at the time.