About Sanofi in Canada
Sanofi is one of Canada’s leading investors in life sciences, research and development, manufacturing and distribution – working to discover new and better ways to address unmet medical needs. With a legacy that spans over 100 years, Sanofi in Canada played a key role in the distribution of insulin on a mass scale, the fight against diphtheria, the eradication of polio in North America, and smallpox around the world. Committed to serving global public health needs, Sanofi is expanding its manufacturing footprint and building on its research and development initiatives to make more lifesaving vaccines available to Canadians, adults and children worldwide.
Jean-Pierre Baylet, General Manager Sanofi Pasteur Canada, is leading the Vaccine Business Unit for Canada. With over 20 years as part of the Sanofi global network, he has seen many changes in the vaccine industry and over the last few years he has witnessed a significant change in focus and investment in Canada. Here’s what he has to say about the future of vaccines.
What should we know about the worldwide vaccine market today?
The market is evolving and changing at a rapid pace. COVID-19 has really shaken things up. It has attracted major investment. New technologies have been introduced. The overall public awareness on vaccination has increased significantly. Vaccine development, manufacturing and regulatory approval processes – the timelines have shrunk. Governments and industry players have worked in an incredibly fast and efficient way. Ultimately, it has changed the way we work and acted as a catalyst for new investments, partnerships, and strategic initiatives.
Can you tell us about the most exciting trends in vaccines?
Thanks to the unprecedented efforts and surge in investment from many actors around the world, we should reap the greatest benefits during the coming years. We should see an acceleration in the number of novel vaccines coming to market. Those vaccines will tackle some difficult infectious diseases like Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a common infection of the lungs and respiratory system in newborns.
Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology has taken a giant leap forward. This technology is really promising for not only protecting people from COVID-19, but potentially many other illnesses in the future, including in Oncology, but it’s still early days.
Sanofi is working on a couple of vaccines candidates that are anticipated to come to market upon successful clinical trial results. These include subunit protein vaccines that use recombinant technology to produce the vaccine antigen, a current influenza platform, for COVID-19, and our own mRNA vaccine, in partnership with Translate Bio.
What is Sanofi’s contribution to shaping these new trends?
In Canada, we continue to build on our legacy with the $500 million (CAD) investment in 2018 and the recent $925 million (CAD) investment to build new vaccine manufacturing facilities at the Toronto site. This will ensure we continue to protect populations against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The new vaccine manufacturing facility announced in spring 2021 will produce an influenza vaccine to protect seniors and contribute to future pandemic preparedness efforts in Canada.
Globally, we have realigned and refocused our current research and development strategy to aggressively pursue mRNA-based next-generation vaccines. Our objective is to be a leader in mRNA vaccines by 2025. To accomplish this, we are investing €400 million annually over 5 years in a mRNA Center of Excellence and dedicating about 400 employees to this goal.
In addition, we have also invested €490 million in the construction of a new Evolutive Vaccine Facility in France. This facility incorporates the latest technologies for agile vaccine manufacturing with the potential to produce multiple different vaccines at the same time, and pivot manufacturing to meet the needs of an urgent public health crisis.
Beyond these investments, we are working to build a stronger public health ecosystem. This means we are working with the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, governments, and industry to develop and manufacture vaccines that respond to global needs.
What elements contribute to building a strong pharmaceutical and biomanufacturing sector in Canada? How does Sanofi contribute to creating these conditions as an industry leader?
We must continue to establish collaborations with industry and government. We have been working with industry partners Translate Bio, AstraZeneca, and GSK, to develop new vaccine candidates, and lending our global manufacturing capacity and expertise to other companies to increase much needed COVID-19 vaccine supply.
All three levels of government – Federal, the Province of Ontario and City of Toronto – came to the table with the largest financial contribution to biomanufacturing and life sciences in Canadian history to build a new vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto because we all see the need to increase our capacity in Canada. Sanofi is uniquely suited to this undertaking, having cultivated a very talented group of scientists, engineers, and support staff with the skills required to deliver this new facility as quickly as possible.
Also, investing in the next generation of scientists is a critical component of our contribution to shaping the future. Creating opportunities through our university co-op student program and the Biogenius high school STEM competition and grant, provides invaluable mentorship, networking, and funding opportunities to help students learn about and pursue careers in the field.
What must be done to stimulate vaccine research and development in Canada so the country will be less dependent on importing vaccines from abroad? How is Sanofi contributing to this?
Communication and relationship building with the public, government, and academic institutions is critical. Without these partnerships, it is not possible to secure the large-scale funding and talent pool required to operate in this market – the funding could go elsewhere along with the associated jobs. Our industry must work with government as well to ensure that the regulatory environment meets our shared ambition of building a robust biotechnology sector domestically.
For Canada to remain an attractive country for foreign investment the federal and provincial governments must continue to seek out new opportunities to collaborate with industry and need a long-term life sciences strategy. If we look at the role of public-private partnerships, like Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in the US and the funding it provided for vaccine research and development during COVID-19, or the Ebola outbreak, this is necessary to ensure we respond with the utmost urgency and agility to new public health threats.
Sanofi is committed to its Canadian operations. The vaccine research and manufacturing taking place here fills an important role in the Sanofi network, contributing millions of doses of essential vaccines annually for adults and children in 60 countries. Approximately $2 billion has been invested in the Toronto site over the last five years to renew infrastructure and adopt new technologies. We have a legacy here of impactful contributions to public health and we plan to build on it for many years to come.
What can make Canada more attractive than other countries when it comes to foreign investments?
COVID-19 has altered the dynamic in Canada. It has refocused government investment on life sciences. It has opened people’s eyes to the impact of immunization against infectious diseases. The calls to government from Canadians to secure vaccines against COVID-19, the relatively rapid rollout of vaccines across the country, and vaccination uptake among the population serves to demonstrate that Canada is serious about attracting investment and building greater domestic capacity now.
How can Sanofi in Canada and globally leverage high vaccine awareness to better fulfill their mandate?
We are living through unprecedented times. We have a responsibility to help educate people, now that we have their attention, to help them understand how vaccines are made, what the regulatory approval process entails, and how safety and efficacy are scientifically established. We know how dangerous misinformation is, that is why we must continue to reach people with clear, concise, and scientifically supported information.
We cannot fulfil our mandate if we do not have public trust in our pharmaceutical companies and our regulatory authorities. We take this very seriously. No matter the technological advances, nor the speed at which the industry is moving to deliver new vaccines, there is nothing more important than producing safe, effective and quality products.