Swine flu windfall

Though a worrisome flu season is knocking at the Northern Hemisphere's door, the five biopharmaceutical companies awarded massive contracts by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for development and production of more than 195 million doses of swine flu vaccine can't really complain. The companies -- Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune, Australian drug maker CSL, and Sanofi-Pasteur -- have been hard at work developing and testing vaccines since the H1N1 surfaced in the US, Mex

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

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Sep 22, 2009
Though a worrisome flu season is knocking at the Northern Hemisphere's door, the five biopharmaceutical companies awarded massive contracts by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for development and production of more than 195 million doses of swine flu vaccine can't really complain. The companies -- Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune, Australian drug maker CSL, and Sanofi-Pasteur -- have been hard at work developing and testing vaccines since the H1N1 surfaced in the US, Mexico, and Canada early this spring. Though drug companies don't tend to make production costs public, these five will likely make a pretty penny as swine flu hits in earnest this fall. Rachael David, a spokesperson for CSL, Australia, said in an email to __The Scientist__ that the company has contracts to supply 21 million doses of a swine flu vaccine to the Australian government and USD $180 million worth of bulk antigen to the...
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for development and production of more than 195 million doses of swine flu vaccine can't really complain. The companies -- Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, MedImmune, Australian drug maker CSL, and Sanofi-Pasteur -- have been hard at work developing and testing vaccines since the H1N1 surfaced in the US, Mexico, and Canada early this spring. Though drug companies don't tend to make production costs public, these five will likely make a pretty penny as swine flu hits in earnest this fall. Rachael David, a spokesperson for CSL, Australia, said in an email to __The Scientist__ that the company has contracts to supply 21 million doses of a swine flu vaccine to the Australian government and USD $180 million worth of bulk antigen to the US. "Analysts have predicted that [CSL's profits from sale of the vaccine and ingredients] will be between AUS $250 and $300 million [USD $218 - $262 million]," David wrote. The US government recently asked MedImmune, a Maryland-based subsidiary of drug maker AstraZeneca, to supply an additional 29 million doses of its live attenuated nasal spray swine flu vaccine, bringing the company's total contract to 40 million doses and more than $450 million. Karen Lancaster, a MedImmune spokesperson, told The Scientist that the cost per dose for the company's H1N1 vaccine is "a little less" than the cost per dose of the company's seasonal flu vaccine. In addition, Lancaster said, "We invested quite a lot in order to move up the production timeline" for the swine flu vaccine. Lancaster added that 3.5 million doses of the vaccine have been OK'd for release by the US Food and Drug Administration and they're ready to roll out the door when the government says go. Sanofi-Pasteur was also asked to provide an additional 27 million doses of bulk antigen on top of the more than 75 million doses of monovalent swine flu vaccine it has already agreed to provide the US government. "We are pleased to be able to support the U.S. government's pandemic response efforts through the production of additional doses of A (H1N1) vaccine," Wayne Pisano, Sanofi Pasteur's CEO, said in a linkurl:statement;http://198.73.159.214/sanofi-pasteur2/ImageServlet?imageCode=26378&siteCode=SP_CORP this week. Novartis scored a whopping $690 million order from the US government this summer. While these larger companies developed their vaccines using the tried and true chicken egg incubation method -- which can take up to six months -- smaller vaccine makers have had some success using alternative vaccine production technologies. For example, Maryland-based Novavax, uses virus-like particle (VLP) technology to manufacture vaccines, and they're experiencing some early success with their H1N1 shot. Less than one month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the sequence of the H1N1 strains' RNA in April, the company was able to develop swine flu VLPs, which can potentially be used to immunize people against infection. The company completed successful linkurl:animal trials;http://www.novavax.com/download/releases/H1N1Aug09.pdf of the VLP vaccine and is now planning human trials. This June, HHS poured $35 million into another biotech, Connecticut-based Protein Sciences, to produce a recombinant swine flu vaccine using insect viruses.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Journals speed up flu studies;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55686/
[11th May 2009]*linkurl:New HHS head takes on swine flu;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55668/
[29th April 2009]*linkurl:Can biotech tackle swine flu?;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55666/
[27th April 2009]

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