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Glaxo wants to seek approval for bird flu vaccine

GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Europe's biggest drugmaker, said it plans to seek approval for its bird flu vaccine in October. “This is a preventive vaccine, and what we are discussing now with governments across the world is to use this vaccine to stockpile or to vaccinate their high-risk people,'' Jean Stephenne, president of Glaxo's Biologicals unit, said today. “We also plan to register it on the private market, which means everyone would have the right to purchase an H5N1 vaccine.'' Glaxo Chief Executive Officer Jean-Pierre Garnier is turning to vaccines for growth after several of the London-based company's best-selling treatments, including the Paxil antidepressant, started to face competition from cheaper generic copies. The company announced its bird flu vaccine plans at a meeting in Geneva. Stephenne said he expects the company's vaccines business to triple in the next five years to about $9 billion or $10 billion a year from sales of about $3 billion a year now. The company said the avian flu vaccine, which has proven to be effective against known strains of H5N1, will also be registered on the private market and, if approved, will be available to individuals as well as governments. At least 130 of the 228 people are known to be infected with the bird flu have died, according to the World Health Organization in Geneva. World health officials are tracking the spread of the virus in the event it evolves to become easily transmitted among people, sparking flu pandemic. The vaccine should be able to protect people even if the H5N1 virus mixes with a strain of human flu, Stephenne said. “If you compare H5N1 isolate to the flu virus that created the flu pandemic in 1918, we know it's only a little difference,'' he said. "This little difference will not change the quality of the vaccine.'' Stephenne said it's difficult to estimate how much of the vaccine Glaxo will be able to make, he said. The company is waiting for the clinical results to see what dose it needs to use and it's also experimenting with different strains of the virus to see which is most productive, he said. Other drugmakers including Novartis AG, Sanofi-Aventis SA and Solvay SA are also working on vaccines that may protect people against the virus. (Bloomberg)