INTERVIEW-Sanofi says on target to honor H1N1 vaccine orders
Friday August 21, 2009 05:02:18 PM GMT
* Expects to send U.S. H1N1 vaccine in Oct-flu specialist
* Says will fill French contract on time
* U.S. vaccine to be sent in bulk
* Says virus strength stable
By Noelle Mennella
PARIS, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Sanofi-Aventis, the world leader in flu immunisation, said on Friday it was reasonably comfortable it would be able honour its contract to supply H1N1 swine flu vaccines to the United States in October.
Albert Garcia, an epidemiologist and flu vaccine specialist who acts as the company's spokesman, told Reuters in an interview that the company would also fill France's order of doses between November and early December, as planned.
The French drug maker's vaccine unit Sanofi Pasteur has a $250 million contract to provide the U.S. with the swine flu antigen in bulk.
The number of doses the U.S. will get will depend on the vaccine's formula, which will be determined by clinical trials expected to end in October.
"The United States wanted doses as of September. We are reasonably expecting to deliver in October doses in bulk, not in ready-to-use form," Garcia said in a telephone interview.
"At that time (in October), we will be able to determine the formula and obtain the necessary authorisations to sell on the market."
Governments have been putting pressure on drugs groups to come up with effective vaccines against swine flu in months, rather than years.
Sales of vaccines to contain the swine flu pandemic are expected to provide a windfall for the global drugs industry, generating billions of dollars of extra revenues at the end of this year and next, analysts have predicted.
Sanofi-Aventuis and other drugs groups, including U.S.-based Baxter, Britain's GSK and Switzerland's Novartis have been racing since June to meet orders from various countries.
The World Health Organisation gave pharmaceutical groups the virus strain at the end of May. Since then, they have been using chicken eggs to cultivate the vaccine's active agents, the antigen that will enable patients to develop antibodies.
"Governments are putting pressure on us so that we deliver the doses as early as possible but cannot go faster than the wind," Garcia said.
Last week, U.S. authorities cut the amount of swine flu vaccines they expected to use as part of an immunisation campaign scheduled for this autumn.
Sanofi Pasteur's renewable contract with France is for 28 million doses.
Asked if the swine flu virus could mutate, which would render ineffective the vaccines currently being prepared, Garcia said:
"All flu viruses mutate and this happens very slowly. The H1N1 virus is being monitored. For the moment, it is continuing to progress but its virulence is still what it was a few weeks ago."
France is the world's leading producer of vaccines. The global vaccine market is estimated to be worth 10 billion euros in annual revenues, of which France makes up 570 million euros. (Writing by Astrid Wendlandt; editing by Karen Foster)