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September 08, 2005

GlaxoSmithKline purchases ID Biomedical

If you live in Canada, you need to know about this.

ID Biomedical is (or was, as the case may be) the only domestic manufacturer of flu vaccine in Canada. It was just sold to British based GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

I'm undecided about whether this is good news or bad... but I'm not overly pessemistic about the implications regarding flu vaccine for an avian flu pandemic. Here's why... [as usual, my emphasis]

Global giant's purchase of Canadian flu vaccine maker secures supply

TORONTO (CP) - The sale of Canada's only domestic flu vaccine maker to British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline should strengthen the security of the country's flu vaccine supply, both year to year and during an influenza pandemic, a variety of sources said Wednesday following announcement of the sale.

Government officials will hold discussions with the new owners and review GSK's capacity to meet ID Biomedical's federal contracts. But Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said he is confident GlaxoSmithKline can and will fulfil the obligations entered into by ID Biomedical.

"It's a very big player, well known," the health minister said of GSK.

"It's been around for a long time. They haven't gotten here by not respecting international obligations that they've entered into."

The president and CEO of GSK Canada said the company fully intends to live up to the contracts ID Biomedical has with Canada and to seek renewal of them once they expire.

"Our commitments are very clear. We have a commitment to supply annual vaccine to Canada, which we'll continue to do, of course. And ID has the 10-year agreement on pandemic preparedness which we will honour as well," Paul Lucas said.

The first contract, which expires in March 2008, is to provide 75 per cent of the vaccine needed for the annual publicly financed flu shot programs across the country. (Sanofi Pasteur provides the remaining 25 per cent.) This year that amounts to eight million doses from ID Biomedical.

The second is a 10-year, $323 million contract to be at the ready to make enough flu vaccine to protect every Canadian in the event of an influenza pandemic. That contract expires in 2011.

Federal negotiators are in the final stages of negotiating an additional contract with ID Biomedical to make trial batches of a vaccine against the H5N1 flu strain experts worry may be poised to spark a pandemic.

The intent is to test the "mock vaccine" to determine the optimal dosing regime and whether an additive called an adjuvant could be used to stretch limited supplies.

"We're very close to concluding the negotiations. I don't believe they would be impacted," Dosanjh said.

"We would make sure that we raised that issue at the earliest possible (opportunity) as the takeover happens."

An industry watcher said the sale signifies GSK is intent on claiming a major share of the global flu vaccine market, which had been languishing but which has exploded due to concerns over the possibility of a flu pandemic.

"The single most important thing about GSK and IDB is the fact that it reflects a very distinct corporate interest in the growth of the international flu (vaccine) market," said Dr. David Fedson, a retired vaccine industry executive who avidly follows flu vaccine production issues.
GSK's purchase of ID Biomedical will significantly increase its vaccine production capacity. The company's existing plant in Dresden, Germany, produced 30 million doses of its trivalent vaccine, Fluarix, last year.

ID Biomedical is already well on the way to completing a major expansion of its Quebec City facility, which expects to hit annual production of 75 million trivalent doses per year by 2007. And that capacity could be further increased, said Tony Holler, the company's CEO.

"I think this acquisition really speaks to the fact that they want to be No. 1 in flu vaccine on a worldwide basis. And this plant is what's going to get them there," Holler said.

"This is going to be probably their beachhead in the (global) flu vaccine business."

GSK received fast-track approval to enter the U.S. market for this flu season as that country attempts to diversify its flu vaccine sources. Last fall Chiron Corp., one of only two companies to provide injectible vaccine to the U.S. market, had to junk its entire output due to contamination problems in its Liverpool, England, plant.

ID Biomedical is also in the process of bringing its product to the U.S. market; it expects to begin selling vaccine there next flu season.

Fluarix is packaged in a single-dose syringe format whereas ID Biomedical's Fluviral is packaged in multi-dose vials, the format more commonly used in the North American market. GSK intends to continue to produce both products, Lucas said.

Personally, I don't think Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh could negotiate a booze up in a brewery... but I'm hopeful that he's just the figure-head who wants to take credit for any efforts to protect us from H5N1. Frankly, I don't care if he does get the credit - as long as we get an H5N1 vaccine! But they've been negotiating this contract for quite a while... and if you read this blog regularly, you'll know that developing a vaccine (even one of marginal effectiveness) will take considerable time. So I'm not holding my breath.

At least GSK will live up to the contractual obligations to provide sufficient vaccine for all Canadians in the event of a pandemic... at least I hope they'll live up to the commitment. Saying it and doing it, particulalry when their own domestic (British) market will be clamouring for vaccines too, are two very different things.

I also like the way this story snuck in the line about the US diversifying its sources of flu vaccine. Fast-track approval by the FDA... impressive. But also telling. I'm under no illussions about how our neighbours to the south will act and react once this pandemic breaks. Their borders will shut so tight so fast it'll make your head spin. And they'll use every tool at their disposal to secure sufficient vaccine for their population... I believe at the expence of anyone and everyone else.

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Posted by dymaxion at September 8, 2005 12:52 PM

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