Sanofi Pasteur posts 8.3% growth despite 2017 vaccine setbacks

Despite numerous challenges that cropped up during the year, Sanofi's vaccines outfit grew revenues 8.3% in 2017 to €5.1 billion ($6.25 billion), helping the drug giant as its pharma segment struggled. 

Importantly in the fourth quarter, issues with the world's first dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, cost the company €158 million ($193 million), CFO Jérôme Contamine said on a conference call accompanying the company's results. The drugmaker disclosed in November that an analysis found that the vaccine can cause more serious infections if given to people who haven't had prior exposure to the virus.  

Shortly afterward, the Philippines stopped vaccinations and asked for a refund of unused shots. Sanofi complied and bought back €19 million ($23 million) in doses, according to Wednesday's earnings release. The drugmaker also took an inventory impairment charge of €87 million ($106 million).  

Those issues hurt the drugmaker's fourth-quarter EPS, which fell 8.8% to €1.06 ($1.30). Dengvaxia sales for the year crashed 98% to €3 million ($3.68 million). 

On the flip side, Sanofi grew flu vaccine sales 8.2% for the year to €1.59 billion ($1.95 billion), maintaining its leadership position in that market. Polio, pertussus and Hib vaccines grew 15.3% to €1.8 billion ($2.2 billion), while travel and other endemic vaccines grew 19% to €493 million ($603 million). 

Sanofi's 8.3% vaccine sales growth for the year compared to an 8% decline for pharma and a 15.2% increase for specialty unit Genzyme. The drugmaker's important diabetes sales slipped 14.3%. 

In addition to trouble with Dengvaxia, the company last year abandoned its late-stage C. diff vaccine program after an interim analysis determined the shot wouldn't be likely to succeed. Before that, after running into a wave of pricing pressure on an investigational Zika vaccine, the drugmaker stopped work on that project when the feds gutted an R&D contract.

Impairment charges on intangible assets were €262 million in the fourth quarter, according to the release, mostly due to the developments with Dengvaxia and in C. diff. 

Meanwhile, the Philippines this week sued to seek compensation for a child who died after receiving Dengvaxia, according to Reuters. A Sanofi representative previously told FiercePharma that "no deaths related to the vaccine have been reported to us." 

Sanofi's $6.25 billion in vaccine sales came short of GSK's 2017 haul of $7.24 billion and Merck's total of $6.5 billion. Pfizer, another large vaccine player, generated $6 billion in vaccine sales for the year.