Sanofi's vaccines pick up pharma's slack—again—even as Dengvaxia languishes

Sanofi's Dengvaxia has generated €22 million so far in 2017.

Anyone hoping the launch for Sanofi's world-first dengue vaccine would ramp up after a lackluster first year is feeling only disappointment so far in 2017. Luckily for the French drugmaker, its other immunizations are performing far better.

Dengvaxia sales crashed 90% to €4 million ($4.65 million) for the third quarter, the drugmaker reported, from €30 million during the same period last year. So far this year, the shot has generated just €22 million ($25.5 million) in sales.  

Those are paltry figures for a product that took 20 years and $1.5 billion to develop. In an earnings release, Sanofi partly attributed slow sales to the difficulties inherent in mounting large-scale vaccines programs, particularly in countries with straitened budgets and political turmoil.

A spokesperson told FiercePharma that the indicated population for the vaccine, people 9 to 45 years old, are tougher to vaccinate as part of large programs than younger children or elderly people.

"The incidence is also very low this year in Brazil and Mexico, which is contributing to a lack of sense of urgency," Sanofi's representative said in a statement.

In all of last year, the dengue vaccine generated €55 million in revenues, compared with an early estimate of €200 million from executives. On Sanofi's third-quarter conference call, Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt said his company has been "very open that the trajectory of certain new launches have been below our expectations," Dengvaxia included. 

The launch demonstrates the risks vaccine makers run when they set out to develop immunizations against infectious diseases that primarily affect developing nations. Ahead of the rollout, executives said they would buck the traditional launch model that focuses early efforts on the U.S. and Europe. 

By looking to endemic nations first, Sanofi had hoped to get its vaccine to as many people as possible as soon as it could. But nearly two years after the vaccine's first approval in December 2015, the shot has yet to generate its first €100 million in sales.

And the company may only have the dengue market to itself temporarily: Takeda is working on a late-stage challenger and other groups are advancing their own programs.

But there were other bright spots in the vaccine business for Sanofi to highlight in its Q3 results. 

Sales for flu vaccines grew 1.8% to €951 million, while polio/pertussus and Hib shots grew 20.7% over last year. Revenues for travel shots grew 34.1% and adult booster vaccines grew 26.5%. All of the increases are at constant exchange rates and constant structures. 

Together, Sanofi's vaccine business expanded sales 7.2% versus last year's third quarter, outgrowing all other units at the drugmaker except for rare disease outfit Genzyme. Sales for that business jumped 13.9% during the period. On the flip side, diabetes and cardiovascular sales fell a whopping 14.8% and general medicines and emerging markets slipped 3.1%. Consumer healthcare posted a 1% increase.