In an announcement full of surprises from Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline, the sale of the Swiss company's vaccines division to Glaxo may have been the least surprising part.
When a U.K. advisory committee reversed its earlier guidance and recommended the country's National Health Service add Novartis' meningitis B vaccine Bexsero to its national immunization program, it did so on condition that the NHS secure a "cost-effective price" for the jab. And now, it seems the country and the Swiss company may have different ideas of what that price should be.
Dr. John Porter, formerly the U.K. medical team lead for Pfizer, will become Novartis' medical affairs director for Northern Europe.
A couple of weeks ago, the FDA handed Pfizer's meningitis B candidate its breakthrough therapy designation, setting it up for a race to market with Novartis' Bexsero. Now, the Swiss company's jab has one to match, meaning it may not be long before it can start contributing some much-needed sales to Novartis' vaccines unit.
Going into 2014 Novartis said this was the year Bexsero, the great hope of its struggling vaccine unit, would begin to generate significant sales. Exactly how significant depends on whether governments agree to pay for the vaccine, and in this regard Novartis received a big boost this week. Britain could begin vaccinating all babies with Bexsero as early as this summer.
The U.K.'s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is revising its stance on Novartis' meningitis B vaccine Bexsero. The jab, originally left off Britain's routine vaccination schedule, has gained the JCVI's nod, supplying a needed boost for the Swiss company's flailing vaccine unit.
The use of Bexsero to quell meningitis B outbreaks at two U.S. universities has given Novartis safety data from 14,000 people, but also convinced the Swiss drugmaker it cannot keep shipping the vaccine under investigational use. Novartis has now outlined its plan to make Bexsero more widely available, starting with a submission to FDA in the second quarter.
While the meningitis B outbreak has died down, the debate it stirred up continues. This week researchers at the Manhattan Institute weighed in with their opinion: If a vaccine is good enough for Europe, it is good enough for the U.S..
Last week Novartis' vaccine unit posted yet another operating loss, extending its streak in the red to four years. Yet despite its well-known, long-term problems, suitors are reportedly circling the unit, with the potential of Bexsero and Menveo likely to be a factor attracting potential buyers.
The meningitis B outbreak at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has slowed for now, with no new cases on the campus since November. However, authorities still view the bacteria as a threat and are trying to get clearance to use Novartis' Bexsero. When that will happen is unclear, though.