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Big Pharma Scrambles for a Piece of the Vaccine Pie


Glaxo is the latest to get H1N1 vaccine approval.

It's a small shot in the arm, but it could mean big money for pharmaceutical companies around the world. With flu season upon us and swine flu threatening to reach pandemic proportions, Big Pharma is scrambling to join the vaccine game.

(Editor's Note: Also read our Viral Threats package.)

A slew of pharmaceutical companies have scooped up smaller biotechs and vaccine makers in an effort to bolster their pathetic showing in the arena this year.

Pfizer (PFE) slapped down a hefty $68 billion for Wyeth to secure what many industry insiders consider to be the most valuable research team developing vaccines. The acquisition, which was completed in October, gives Pfizer access to the top-selling pneumococcal vaccine for children, Prevnar, among others.

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) announced in September that it plans to drop a whopping $6.6 billion for the Belgium-based Solvay to get its hand on its flu vaccine, which brought in $201 million in sales in 2008. The deal has yet to close.

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is also jumping into the vaccination craze with the purchase of an 18% stake in Crucell for $444 million. The Dutch company entered into a deal with Johnson & Johnson concerning its flu vaccine.

Not all of Big Pharma is buying its way into the inoculation industry: Merck (MRK), Novartis (NVS), and GalxoSmithKline (GSK) are already major players in vaccines.

Glaxo got approval from the US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday to make 7.6 million doses of its unadjuvanted H1N1 vaccine by the end of the year -- only a small portion of the doses that will be needed. The British company makes an adjuvanted version (a vaccine with add-ins that boost the immune response) of the vaccine in Europe.

Merck got approval for its human papillomavirus vaccine in 2006. The vaccine was originally produced to prevent the infection that causes cervical cancer in girls and young women. It was approved in October by the FDA for the treatment of genital warts caused by HPV in boys and young men.

The pharma giant also produces vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, as well as hepatitis A and B. Merck saw revenues of $1.2 billion for its vaccines and infectious disease drugs during the third quarter of 2009.
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