After a high-volume flu season driven by outbreak of the mutated H3N2 strain, Sanofi has bolstered its vaccine class with options specific to older populations.
David Greenberg, MD
A little more than 6 months since researchers addressed the mutated H3N2 strain that resulted in abnormally high rates of influenza outbreak in the US, vaccine manufacturers have finalized work for the next flu season.
Sanofi Pasteur, Sanofi’s vaccine division stationed in Swiftwater, PA, has manufactured about 70 million doses for the upcoming 2018-19 US flu season, with the first round of shipments anticipated to reach physicians and customers throughout August.
The cyclical vaccine production process is bookended by the newest strain’s distribution in the late summer, and the selection of strains by the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 1. Regardless the trend of previous years’ strains or mutations, manufacturers are working on limited clinical insight as to how best manage the upcoming year’s flu.
David Greenberg, MD, associate vice president and regional medical head of North America for Sanofi, told MD Magazine® it’s difficult enough to predict whether the flu will spread more in October, or later in the season like January—let alone predicting which strain will dominate in cases.
“People try to get some idea from what’s happening now in the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s hard to predict,” Greenberg said. “As to whether 1 particular strain will be dominant or another, we don’t know. That’s why we have 4 strains.”
However, Sanofi has resources at hand to tailor at least some of its annual vaccine products to in-need populations. Among the 70 million doses to be distributed this season are 25 million doses of Flublok Quadrivalent and Fluzone High-Dose, the company’s vaccines proven to prevent more cases of flu in older adults versus the standard dose provided by competitors.
Flublok, proven in randomized, controlled trials and real-world analysis to provide better vaccination to patients aged 50 years and older, is the newest addition to Sanofi’s slate of flu vaccines after the company’s acquisition of developer Protein Sciences last year.
They’re also currently collaborating with institutions such as the University of Georgia to develop a quadrivalent vaccine with efficacy for a wider array of conditions. Greenberg projected such a therapy could reach the market in the next 4 years.
“It’s definitely in our pipeline, and hopefully those vaccines will be coming to clinical trials in the next 2-3 years,” Greenberg said. “As an organization, we’re extremely looking forward to continuing to advance optimal coverage of conditions.”
At the height of last year’s flu season, an estimated 16 children aged 0-4 years old, per 100,000 population, were hospitalized by the flu, according to the NIH. Though this rate drove media exaggerations of the season’s severity, Greenberg emphasized the importance of child vaccination.
“It’s certainly, in pediatrics, a focus because of the deaths that occur,” Greenberg said. “About 80-90% of pediatric deaths are those who are not vaccinated. Vaccination is extremely important in all ages, but most pertinent in that age group.”
In scope of last year’s season, Greenberg emphasized that even vaccines that fail to prevent the disease are still critical for the prevention of complications and comorbidities linked to influenza. Vaccinated patients with breakthrough cases are far less likely to develop pneumonia or suffer from a stroke, or to eventually develop conditions such as diabetes or heart disease that those who are not vaccinated, Greenberg said.
“Clearly, we have a public health mission,” Greenberg said. “It is that we should provide protection, and no one should suffer or die from a vaccination-preventable disease. We are driven by that.”