Seqirus boosting output and focusing on just a few vaccines: CSL CEO

Seqirus is working to boost its output of cell culture flu vaccines in North Carolina. (Seqirus)

Establishing a leading flu vaccine player takes time, but during the two-plus years of Seqirus' existence, the new company has worked to both hone its portfolio and boost output of next-gen cell culture flu vaccines, the chief of its parent company said in an interview.

Speaking with FiercePharma at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this month, CSL CEO Paul Perreault said Seqirus' manufacturing site in Holly Springs, North Carolina, will produce 20 million cell culture flu vaccine doses this year, up from just a few million doses when CSL acquired the site. CSL formed Seqirus back in 2015 after purchasing Novartis' flu vaccine offerings and combining the business with its own bioCSL. 

Perreault said the North Carolina site largely served as an R&D office before Seqirus started ramping up production. It's partnered with the U.S. government for pandemic preparedness, as well. 

"You have to get product out the door first," he said. "If you want to continue to do R&D in this facility, it has to be a viable facility." 

In addition to boosting output there, the company is honing its efforts on just a few products such as the Flucelvax cell culture shot and its adjuvanted option called Fluad, Perreault said. So far, the company is alone in producing next-gen cell culture flu vaccines on a commercial scale at a time when efficacy for egg-based flu vaccines has come into question

Other top players are also involved alternative flu vaccine technology. Sanofi last year scooped up Protein Sciences and its FDA-approved Flublok for $650 million, and GlaxoSmithKline in 2016 entered a research partnership with Valneva to explore vaccines based on the biotech's EB66 cell line. 

"It's a real platform of innovation that will help us to differentiate that business," Perreault said of the technology. 

In addition to those activities, Seqirus is also investing in its Liverpool site so it won't have to rely on external partners for fill/finishing services. The flu vaccine maker expects to ship more than 50 million doses to the U.S. this flu season, short of industry leader Sanofi Pasteur's 70 million dose projection. For its part, GSK said it expects to deliver up to 40 million doses for the season. 

For CSL's fiscal year that ended on June 30, Seqirus turned in $900 million in sales, up 23% compared to the prior year.