Sanofi tees off work on €400M 'factory of the future' in Singapore

By the middle of the decade, Sanofi’s “factory of the future” in Singapore could become a reality.  

The French pharma kicked off construction on the first of two so-called Evolutive Vaccine Facilities (EVFs) it's standing up through a combined investment of 900 million euros (about $976 million). The other plant is coming online in France. Together, the EVFs will help “pave the way for future vaccine innovation across the world,” the company said in a release.

Sanofi isn’t stopping at vaccines, either. Its pair of EVFs are designed for “agile and flexible” production of “multiple” vaccine and biologics platforms, including mRNA, enzymes and monoclonal antibodies, Sanofi said.

The Singapore EVF—which the company is backing with a cool 400 million euros ($434 million)—is a “first-of-its-kind,” fully digitalized and modular vaccine production plant capable of producing shots for Asia on a “large scale,” Sanofi said. The facility will capitalize on Singapore’s position as a regional “innovation hub for the healthcare industry,” the company added.

"To proceed with massive investments like the EVF, you need to have a whole ecosystem of suppliers of raw materials, of starters, of innovation technologies in the same area,” Thomas Triomphe, Sanofi’s executive vice president for vaccines, said in an interview with the Singapore daily The Straits Times.

Sanofi already employs more than 500 people in the country, and it plans to recruit another 200 over the next five years as its EVF project proceeds. The Singapore plant is expected to be complete by the end of 2025, the company added in its release.

Designed for adaptability during current and future public health crises, the Singapore EVF hinges on a central unit comprised of several “fully digitised modules,” Sanofi says. Those modules will be able to crank out up to four vaccines at once. That holds true “regardless of the vaccine technology used,” whether that be protein, mRNA or some other platform, Sanofi said.

In addition, the site will be set up to swiftly “switch” its configuration toward a singular vaccine process to boost supplies and adapt to evolving public health needs such as a pandemic.

“We know that Covid-19 is not going to be here forever,” Triomphe told The Straits Times. “So with these evolutive facilities, we are already planting the seeds and preparing for the next pandemic, and this is the level of agility that you need."

Prior to the pandemic, GlaxoSmithKline operated Singapore’s lone vaccine plant. That site has been churning out components for GSK’s childhood bacterial vaccines since 2011, The Straits Times pointed out.

That now appears to be changing thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from Sanofi, Pfizer’s German partner BioNTech plus its mRNA rival Moderna have both telegraphed plans to set up shop in the Southeast Asian country.

BioNTech last May pulled back the curtain on plans for a Southeast Asia regional headquarters in Singapore, which will include a highly automated mRNA manufacturing facility. The plant will eventually boast an estimated capacity of several hundred million mRNA vaccine doses a year, the company said at the time.

Moderna in February sketched plans for a quartet of new subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan to expand its commercial footprint in Asia. The continent now represents an “integral part” of the company’s business, Moderna said in a release earlier this year. So far, Moderna’s Singapore stake seems less focused on manufacturing.