Sanofi deploying $1B to turn France into 'pioneer mRNA nation'

Sanofi's $2.2 billion commitment to beefing up its messenger RNA work, unveiled in June 2021, has come into clearer view this week with more than a billion dollars of that sum now earmarked toward making the French Big Pharma's home country a "pioneer mRNA nation."

The 935 million euro ($1.02 billion) investment, from now until 2026, will bankroll a "complete and autonomous value chain in mRNA technology," the company revealed on its French webpage Monday.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson visited the pharma's future Evolutive Vaccines Facility plant in Neuville, France, on Monday.

"Faced with pandemic challenges and unmet health needs in many fields such as oncology and rare diseases, this major investment for a global center of excellence in France will be a major scientific and industrial asset," Hudson said.

The large capital expense will fund research and development as well as production of mRNA-based vaccines, Sanofi said. The Big Pharma plans to develop six candidate mRNA vaccines by 2025, a push that was accelerated with the $3.2 billion acquisition of Translate Bio in August. 

Following the Translate buy, Sanofi dug deeper with plans to pair its mRNA tech with an acne vaccine candidate by gobbling up Origimm Biotechnology for an undisclosed sum in December 2021. 

Messenger RNA technology has come to the forefront of biopharma R&D and made its way into dinner table conversations thanks to COVID-19 vaccines that have been given to billions of people during the pandemic. 

Sanofi didn't work on an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, but it has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline on a pandemic jab. The shot suffered a delay in late 2020, but the two pharmas revealed just weeks ago that the protein vaccine led to 58% protection from symptomatic COVID-19 after two doses. 

Sanofi's broad mRNA plans were briefly laid out in a June 2021 update in which the Big Pharma unveiled a $476 million per year investment for an mRNA Center of Excellence to employ 400 workers across Massachusetts and France.

The company's main focus is on improving mRNA technology, with a focus on storage capabilities and tolerability. Particularly, the company is interested in getting rid of side effects that sideline vaccine recipients for a day or two after receiving a shot, Jean-Francois Toussaint, Ph.D., head of research and development for Sanofi Pasteur, told Fierce Biotech in January.