Sanofi poised for dengue fever vaccine launch

Sanofi is on course to launch the first vaccine against dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral infection that threatens millions of the world’s population, later this year.

The vaccine looks set to transform the management of dengue fever – which according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates afflicts 390m people a year – and could also become the world’s best-selling vaccine, according to analysts.

Dengue is second only to malaria as the most important mosquito-borne disease, but unlike malaria is increasing in incidence and severity.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Olivier Charmeil, the head of the company’s vaccines division Sanofi Pasteur, said the vaccine has taken 20 years and $1.5bn to develop but will be at the “high end of profitability” among its vaccine portfolio.

Sanofi has started ‘rolling’ marketing applications for the vaccine into countries with endemic dengue and is expecting the first licences to be granted in up to 20 countries in Asia and Latin America by the end of this year.

The roll-out is being supported by a new manufacturing facility in Neuville-sur-Saône in France that Charmeil said will provide up to 100 million doses per annum when it comes fully online early next year.

Dengue fever starts as a flu-like illness, but occasionally develops into a potentially lethal complication called severe dengue, a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries.

It can cause excruciating pain in the joints and abdomen- so severe it is sometimes referred to as the ‘bone breaker’ disease – as well as vomiting and circulatory system failure.

The vaccine is desperately needed, particularly in countries like Brazil that has been battling an outbreak that as of May had affected around 750,000 people and claimed more than 220 lives. Dengue re-emerged in Brazil in the 1980s after an absence of more than 20 years.

Charmeil told the FT that the total potential market is three to four billion people in dengue-affected zones and – while the company is remaining tight-lipped on pricing – the massive numbers of potential vaccine recipients suggest sales upwards of €1 billion a year are possible even with modest pricing, according to analysts.

A successful launch of the vaccine will be a major boost to Sanofi’s recently appointed chief executive Olivier Brandicourt, who has just announced a major restructuring of the group that has however left Sanofi Pasteur largely unaffected.

Brandicourt took the helm of the French group after a protracted search for a successor to former CEO Chris Viehbacher, who was voted out by the company’s board last October.

Aside from the vaccine, scientists are also experimenting with other approaches to try to control dengue fever, including the introduction of genetically modified male mosquitos that are sterile and help reduce the mosquito population.

A just-completed trial in Brazil reported in the journal PLOS One has shown controlled release of sterile males produced by UK firm Oxitec reduced the population of dengue-carrying mosquitos by 95 percent.

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