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Sanofi wants to become a champion of bioproduction drugs

Sanofi has lately embraced the biotechnological revolution, but is accelerating to catch up: after 3,3 billion of industrial investments in this field in the last five years, it plans to spend about 600 million euros per year by 2020.

Industrial investments now represent one billion euros a year, "a considerable level, never reached at Sanofi" before, said Wednesday at a press point Philippe Luscan, head of operations of the French pharmaceutical giant.

Approximately two-thirds of these annual amounts will be dedicated to production capacity in biotechnology, he said.

"Our ambition is to become a leader in the production of biomedicines (...). We embark on it thoroughly," he insisted.

Originally from the world of chemistry, Sanofi initially delayed in the 2000 years to take the measure of the turn of biotechnologies in the pharmaceutical sector, which could represent 29% of the world market in 2022, against 17% in 2008, according to a study Of Evaluate Pharma.

Symbol of these strategic mistakes of the past, a chemical site of 8.500 m2 group in Montpellier, delivered in 2012, will be finally destroyed, without having ever served.

Several Sanofi unions denounced a "mess" of 107 million and regretted that this site could not be converted to biotechnology.

With the repositioning of the group on innovative products, "this investment in Montpellier proved not useful", justified Mr. Luscan. His equipment will however be reassigned to other chemical sites in the group, he confirmed.

- Difficulties of recruitment in France -
In recent years, however, Sanofi has converted other chemical sites in France to biotech production, such as Neuville-sur-Saône near Lyon, which has become the center of production for its vaccine against dengue, and Vitry-sur-Seine, South of Paris, transformed into a center of research and development in biotechnology with a unit of production of monoclonal antibodies.

But for its next large cell culture plant, Sanofi preferred Switzerland, through a joint venture announced in February with pharmaceutical subcontractor Lonza, with an investment of 270 million euros each.

Sanofi says it is difficult to recruit experts in the professions associated with bioproduction in France. In Vitry, for example, the group had to bring German and American engineers, according to Luscan.

"Training in France in biotechnology is dispersed, we call for the creation of a sector," he said, urging to take the example of Ireland, which trains each year "4.000 people" in this Domain, coming from all over the world.

"The argument is a bit fallacious," critic Thierry Bodin, head of CGT at Sanofi, questioned by AFP. "It would be possible for the group to participate in the creation of this" hexagonal, gold "channel, it seems that they are waiting for the public authorities to do so," according to the trade unionist.

However, Sanofi has set up a "biotech campus" for the internal training of its employees. More than 1.100 of them attended sessions on biotechnology last year.

In addition, the group is helping a number of French biotechnology training schools "grow in power" through partnerships, Luscan said.

About 40.000 employees of Sanofi around the world assigned to its industrial activities, some 15.000 work in bioproduction, including vaccines, according to Luscan. In France, they would be 6.500 in bioproduction, evaluates Mr. Bodin of the CGT.

About 400 people, including 250 experts, have been recruited by the group globally in the last two years in bioproduction.

In the future, Sanofi also plans to deploy new digital technologies in its factories, enabling equipment to be connected to each other in order to optimize manufacturing and control processes.

Its monoclonal antibody plant in Geel, Belgium, which is the subject of an 300 million euro expansion plan announced last year, will become a pilot site for these new production methods as soon as 2018.

These technologies will require "fewer operators", but will create needs in new trades, such as data analysts, according to Luscan.

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