Every year, the publication of the recommended strains for the upcoming northern hemisphere flu season by the World Health Organization marks the start of a race between AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and CSL’s Seqirus to ship their influenza vaccines. In recent years, Sanofi has lagged behind at least one of its rivals.
That changed this year. On a second quarter results conference call with investors, CEO Paul Hudson said Sanofi had won the race to ship flu vaccines in the US for the first time in three years.
Sanofi picked a good time to get a head start on its competitors. Hudson expects Sanofi to deliver around 80 million influenza vaccine doses to US customers for the 2020-2021 flu season, up around 20% on the prior year, as the country tries to scale up its immunization effort to spare hospitals that are already straining under the pressure of COVID-19 from an additional burden.
With Sanofi also expecting a “significant double-digit increase” in every part of the world, the stage is set for the French company to post record flu season sales. Sanofi has a recent 40% jump in influenza vaccine deliveries in the southern hemisphere to back up its confidence in the potential for growth outside of the US.
Sanofi has scaled up its flu vaccine operation to meet the demand. Whether the effort is sufficient to ensure there are enough flu vaccines to avoid a shortage this winter will depend on the output of the other manufacturers.
GlaxoSmithKline sold 46 million flu vaccines to the US in the prior influenza season, giving it around one-fifth of the market. This year, GSK is aiming to ship 50 million, representing a 9% increase over the 2019-2020 season. The figures suggest Sanofi may increase its share of the market.
The volume increase is the larger of two anticipated tailwinds for Sanofi’s flu vaccine business in the second half of the year. Sanofi also expects to benefit from “some price increases,” in part because it is switching from the trivalent to quadrivalent forms of its Fluzone High-Dose vaccine.
Sanofi and GSK, which are partnered on a COVID-19 vaccine, are independently looking to the rising demand for flu shots to offset headwinds at other parts of their vaccine businesses.
In the second quarter, Sanofi’s vaccine sales fell 7% amid reduced demand for adult booster shots, the meningococcal disease vaccine Menactra and products for travellers. Sanofi expects demand for travel vaccines to stay suppressed and warned a decision to keep schools and universities closed may also negatively impact sales.
GSK suffered a 29% drop in vaccine sales in the second quarter. Strong flu vaccine sales could help GSK to improve performance at the unit in the second half of the year, particularly if, as the company hopes, the influenza season delivers a boost to sales of shingles shot Shingrix by exposing people to the availability of the product.