Spain as an example worldwide. The immunization campaign against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) fills pediatric ICUs every winter with children with bronchiolitis. But this year things could be different. More than 800,000 children under the age of six months in our country already have access to nirsevimab, developed by Sanofi and AstraZeneca.

It is a monoclonal antibody that will act as a shield against the pathogen, freeing children from the suffering of trying to fill their lungs with oxygen, parents from hours of anguish and absences from work and the health system from the pressure of care in hospitals and consultations.

Our country, along with France and the USA, is one of the models where the French company will validate the real-life effectiveness of the results obtained in the trials. In these, it has been shown to reduce revenue by up to 80%.

Raquel Tapia, the general director of the French laboratory in our country, proudly says that "we have managed to work with all levels: the Ministry, the ministries of the autonomous communities, scientific societies... And we've rolled out the campaign across the country."

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The banker who wants to eliminate bronchiolitis: "We are going to see a clear decrease in cases"

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Who, When, and Why: All About the New RSV Vaccine for Children Under One Year Old


Who, When, and Why: All About the New RSV Vaccine for Children Under One Year Old

This seems easy, but it is not. For anyone who does not know our health system, it must be realized that making a drug available to patients requires a negotiation not only with Health, but with the 17 'ministries' that can make up the regional councils. "We feel very proud," Tapia insists. Because public-private collaboration in healthcare, as Pedro Sánchez alluded to in his investiture speech, is a formula that works. "We are going to promote greater public-private collaboration in R+D+I," said Sánchez.

Tapia sits down for the first time with a media outlet, Papel, after his appointment nine months ago. "We have been able to bring all the necessary doses [of nirsevimab] so that minors can be immunized because we have shown that we have a very strong added value that impacts the population beyond health."

At the GIC, we use AI to shorten the search time for new molecular targets by up to 30%

Here Tapia is clear. She is a woman of numbers. He studied Economics at the University of Oviedo and it was during his MBA training that a story of a pharmaceutical company attracted him to this sector. "Then all the stars were set up so that it could enter it." This Asturian has travelled the world and has worked in different therapeutic areas, Alzheimer's, Immunology and Oncology. From each one he learned the tastelessness of research. "It's hard to get a drug off the ground. " Out of every 10,000 molecules, only one works."

Sanofi's commitment to Spain is no coincidence. "Last year we were the number one subsidiary in clinical trials within the company. This meant that we obtained an investment of more than 50 million euros in R+D. In the last four years, we have invested close to 200 million here." All these economic figures translate into a significant footprint. "Right now we have more than 70 clinical trials open, which are spread over about 325 hospitals and about 8,000 patients."

P. Does the immunization of babies against RSV help the subsidiary gain global weight in the company?

A. It is very important that the strategies we put in place work and that they are reflected in what we do in the country. It's not just about maintaining what we have, but about growing our importance within the group. Bring us more investments in both research and production.

P. Sanofi is associated with vaccines, immunization. The last example is the antibody for RSV. But they are more than that. What are your therapeutic areas?

A. We focus on achieving the so-called first-in-class or best-in-class of a pathology. In RSV we have achieved this; In immunization, where we are strong, we have other examples. But we also focus on immunology. In diseases that are based on type II inflammation, such as atopic dermatitis, COPD, asthma, nasal polyposis... If we develop a drug that serves to curb the origin of this common inflammation, we will have a drug for all of them. We are also trying to bring to Spain a drug recently approved in the US to curb type 1 diabetes in children under eight years of age. That is, to prevent them from going from phase 2 to phase 3.

Q. What does Sanofi produce in Spain?

A. We have a plant in Riells i Viabrea, Girona. 94% of the products are exported. These are medicines that are on the WHO list of essential medicines. And they are also references that belong to the list of strategic reserves that Spain and Europe stipulate should never be missing.

Right now we have more than 70 clinical trials open, spread over some 325 hospitals, with 8,000 patients

This is a key point. Because dependence on third countries in Europe has made us vulnerable to drug shortages at specific times. Tablets and capsules are produced from the French factory on Spanish soil. They focus on the manufacture of treatments for pathologies of the central nervous system, cardiovascular, thyroid, antimalarial, biliary therapy and bacterial infections. Eight out of ten stay in the old continent and two go to emerging countries. In total, the production volume is approximately 72 million units per year, which translates into the manufacture of 80 different formulas for more than 20 different pathologies.

P. This is in line with one of the guidelines set by the EU: autonomy from other countries to avoid supply problems and shortages, right?

A. A phrase that sums this up is how to focus on resilience versus efficiency. Until before the pandemic, the latter was sought, which is why much of the investment, especially in production, went to India and China. But now let's focus on the latter. We need to find out where to develop APIs [active ingredient with which to make a drug].

Q. What does Sanofi bring to the table in this regard?

A. We have the largest production network in Europe with 34 centres. Two years ago, an independent company, Euroapi, was set up precisely to produce these active ingredients. But not just for Sanofi, but for all companies. With this we can guarantee that we have the production we need in the essential materials within Europe. This will help us not to have to decide which countries to send drugs to first.

P. So, should Europe rebuild its lost pharmacological productive force in favour of others?

A. In healthcare innovation, according to the latest reports that not only look back but also project into the future, we have gone from 41% in the 90s to 31% today. And it is predicted that by 2040 it will drop to 21%. And this is a problem for Europe, but also for Spain. Because here the pharmaceutical industry is a key export sector, the third at the national level, with 27,000 million euros in sales of medicines abroad [only behind cars and fuels]. We are the second industrial sector in terms of investment in R+D.

94% of the products are exported from the Riells plant. They belong to the WHO's list of essential medicines

P. With these figures, why does it seem more important to set up a car or chip factory in Spain than a drug factory?

A. As an economist, it seems to me that the impact that investment in R+D by pharma companies can have goes beyond mere production. There are many side effects. We are an engine of economic and social progress. There are more than 44,000 people directly employed, more than 210,000 indirectly, more than 52% of whom are women. There are studies that quantify that for every million euros invested in R+D, 15.6 jobs are generated. In addition, we retain scientific talent.

Q. How do you attract researchers?

A. 86% of clinical trials in Spain have been carried out by the pharmaceutical industry. If we manage to grow in size, more opportunities will open up. There will be more need for researchers to stay here because there will be more centers that demand them.

P. With all this curriculum, the pharmaceutical industry is a pole of attraction with an impact beyond the strictly sanitary. Why doesn't it transcend?

A. We need to be more proactive. Until now, we were in a scientific environment, pure and simple. We didn't look any further. But we have to get out of there, because science and production is only part of it. As a citizen, I want there to be more access to treatments, for there to be environmental sensitivity to what we do.

P. An example of its environmental policies...

A. Reduction of plastics. If we manage to eliminate plastics from the six million vaccines we produce in Spain, it will be like having taken 19 million plastic bags out of circulation. Last year, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Riells i Viabrea plant, we also announced a new investment of 15 million euros to install a photovoltaic plant.

Sanofi not only has a drug production in Spain, but also a digital hub, the Global Innovation Center (GIC). A hub that serves the entire company in three main areas: finance, supply chain and digital. There are about 400 people from more than 40 countries who use, among others, artificial intelligence (AI) in the search for new molecules. "This is key," Tapia stresses. "We can speed up the processes of identifying molecular targets that can move into development phases. This can save 20-30% of the time currently spent."

P. From the GIC, is AI already used for everything?

A. We use it in any company process that can be improved. One of them, with a great impact on society, is the supply chain: how to improve its efficiency at each of the points.

  • Vaccines
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Infectious diseases
  • Pediatrics
  • Pharmacology