All manufacturers of influenza vaccines were put on the back foot this flu season by the late decision on which strains they should target. However, some manufacturers were able respond faster than others to the late information.
Flu sales at GlaxoSmithKline increased 15% in the third quarter. Talking to investors, GSK CFO Iain Mackay said the increase stemmed from an earlier flu season than in 2018 and “share gains” resulting from the speed at which it got its product to market.
Those share gains look to have come at the expense of Sanofi. Flu sales at Sanofi fell 29% in the third quarter.
Despite the slow start, Sanofi expects to grow flu sales across the full year – the prediction reflects a belief that more than half of 2019 flu sales will happen in the fourth quarter, compared to one-third in 2018.
Talking to investors on a third quarter results conference call, David Loew, EVP at Sanofi Pasteur, said the slow start to flu sales and expectation of a strong finish both relate to the pros and cons of his company’s high-dose vaccine.
Loew said, “When you prepare for the flu season, it's more complex manufacturing. That's a small disadvantage. The big advantage is that you're selling differentiated vaccines, therefore at a much higher price, because they offer more value.”
GSK sells a standard-dose vaccine. As Loew sees it, this explains why GSK was first to market this year and why Sanofi will make up lost ground in the fourth quarter.
The future of flu treatment
The 2019-2020 flu season is taking place against a backdrop of renewed interest in how vaccines are made. In September, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for the industry to move away from egg-based production and the long lead times entailed.
Having acquired Protein Sciences, a company that makes flu vaccines in insect cells, for up to $750m (€674m) in 2017, Sanofi thinks it is well placed to meet the call for new production systems.
Loew said, “We are working as we speak with Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to discuss how we are going to expand the footprint in the US, how we can also prepare adjuvanted versions of this and how we can engage together into the next generation of more broadly protective flu vaccines.”