CSL's Seqirus delivers record number of flu vaccines despite pandemic, and now it's eyeing next-gen mRNA shots

Despite a global pandemic and social distancing measures threatening to hamper influenza vaccinations last season, CSL’s Seqirus managed to deliver a record number of flu shots—and it’s preparing to match that this season. 

Seqirus, one of the largest flu vaccine makers in the world, shipped roughly 130 million flu vaccine doses globally last year, driving sales for the division up an impressive 30% at constant exchange rates to $1.7 billion, CSL reported in an annual filing on Wednesday. 

The results for CSL’s Seqirus last year were “exceptionally strong,” driven primarily by its flu shot products amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CSL chief Paul Perreault said during a call with analysts. 

In the U.S., Seqirus delivered 63 million flu vaccine doses last year. The company plans to deliver about 60 million this year, Dave Ross, Seqirus’ vice president of commercial operations in North America, told Fierce Pharma in an interview. 

Some experts feared that lockdown orders and social distancing measures might thwart flu vaccinations last year. But as CSL pointed out in its annual report, COVID-19 actually provided a “tailwind” for its vaccine business and increased demand. 

For its U.S. market, the CDC switched its guidance and now advises that COVID-19 vaccines can be administered alongside flu vaccines, which could benefit flu vaccinations this fall since people can come in for both jabs at the same time, Ross said. 

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It also helps that Seqirus is moving toward what it deems a “differentiated and high value” flu vaccine portfolio, driven by its latest quadrivalent flu shots—Fluad Quad, Flucelvax Quad and Afluria Quad. 

CSL launched Fluad Quad, the first and only adjuvanted flu shot approved for adults aged 65 and older, in the U.S. last year. Jefferies’ analysts point out that the transition toward the higher-priced shots, particularly Fluad Quad, drove Seqirus growth last year.

Meanwhile, Seqirus also has its eyes on another vaccine platform: self-amplifying mRNA. In light of the highly effective mRNA shots against COVID-19 from Pfizer and Moderna, CSL is working on pushing out its own program it hopes will “address some of the challenges experienced with current generation mRNA vaccines,” Perreault told analysts. 

RELATED: Vaccine maker Seqirus plots $800M investment into major Australian shot manufacturing center

To that end, CSL is working on its own next-gen mRNA flu vaccine that’s currently undergoing preclinical studies. The company anticipates starting phase 1 studies next year.

Flu vaccines weren’t CSL’s only standout last year. Sales for Haegarda, the company’s injectable treatment to help prevent swelling and painful attacks in patients with hereditary angioedema, or HAE, grew 14% last year, driving CSL’s total specialty product sales to $1.7 billion, according to the report. 

Demand for Haegarda, which scored an expanded label in the U.S. last September for patients as young as 6 years old, increased largely thanks to patients using the drug as a preventative treatment, not just an on-demand injection, Perreault said.