April 4, 2016
French multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi launched the world’s first mass vaccination program for dengue fever in the Philippines on Monday, April 4, 2016. The program brought to fruition a 20-year development process in which the company has invested €1.5bn.
The target is to immunize one million Filipino schoolchildren against the virus at a price of €20 a shot. In this scheme Sanofi hopes that this will be replicated across the swath of tropical and subtropical countries affected by the deadly disease that is mosquito-borne.
Dengue is among the most rapidly expanding infectious diseases. Over the past 50 years, a 30-fold increase in incidence has been identified concerning Dengue. Its flu-like symptoms cause an estimated 500,000 hospitalisations a year and about 12,500 deaths.
At a time when Sanofi is struggling for growth, the French group is trying to strike a balance between ensuring affordable access to its Dengvaxia product while also making it a commercial success.
Guillaume Leroy, head of the Dengvaxia business at Sanofi Pasteur, the group’s vaccines unit, said: “We need to be responsible and fair. We also need to make a return on our investment otherwise no one else will do what we have done: putting €1.5bn at risk to develop a vaccine for low- and middle-income countries”.
Sanofi is significantly depending on Dengvaxia, which is one of several new products that are newly available in the market to offset decline in its best-selling Lantus insulin for diabetics. In addition, another of its big hopes — Praluent for high cholesterol — has been slow to take off. for Dengvaxia, Sanofi is targeting peak sales of over $1bn a year. In order to achieve that, the company will need other big middle-income countries to come forward and embark on large-scale vaccination schemes of the kind planned by the Philippines across 6,000 public schools.
Dengvaxia has also been approved by regulators in Mexico, Brazil, and El Salvador. As said by Dr. Leroy, talks were under way with authorities in those countries about how many people should be vaccinated and at what price. The decision of Sanofi to go direct to local regulators is different from the usual industry practice of validating products first in the Europe or US.
Dengvaxia was shown to eliminate eight out of 10 hospitalizations for dengue in clinical trials. This offered countries an economic saving well in excess of the cost of vaccination, Dr Leroy said.