The mammalian cell culture technology is used to make SK Chemicals’ commercial trivalent and quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccines, and now Sanofi will use it as part of its own influenza vaccine development programme.
“SK Chemical has proven its competitive development capability in the cell culture technology currently used in quadrivalent influenza vaccine, among others, and is equipped with a world-standard production facility and capacity,” Sanofi spokesperson Laurence Bollack told Biopharma-Reporter.
The Korean conglomerate was the first to commercialise a quadrivalent – stimulating an immune response against four different antigens – cell culture-based flu vaccine when it launched SKYCellflu in the local market last year, and now Sanofi hopes the tech can be used to produce a universal flu vaccine.
“Sanofi Pasteur is actively exploring several innovative influenza vaccine technologies for the future. This includes the development of a broadly protective influenza vaccine that will be designed to protect against influenza without the need to manufacture and administer a vaccine every season,” said Bollack.
Under the terms of the deal, Sanofi will pay the Korean vaccine maker an upfront payment of $15m, plus a further $20m once the technology is transferred. Potential milestone payments could be worth as much as $120m.
Cells, insects and eggs
Bollack added the technology will complement recent investments in influenza vaccines, which includes €170m for a VaxigripTetra production facility in France and the $650m acquisition of Protein Sciences.
VaxigripTetra is a influenza vaccine containing two A strains (A/H1N1 and A/H3N2) and two B strains (B/Victoria and B/Yamagata), but unlike SK Chemicals’ quadrivalent vaccine it is made via the traditional method of growing the live virus in hen eggs.
Making vaccines in eggs has certain drawbacks, namely the risk of infection, issues with supply and the length of time needed for production which can be several times longer than with cell-based systems.
Protein Sciences, meanwhile, has a quadrivalent vaccine approved (FluBlok) which uses an insect virus-based expression system to make large quantities of viral hemagglutinin, the protein that elicits the strongest immune response. The firm has previously said it can make a flu vaccine in two-three months, compared with six months using hen eggs.