Could oral vaccines shake up the flu shot market? Vaxart's Ph I says maybe

John Treanor--Courtesy of the University of Rochester Medical Center

Flu shots are a driving sales force for more than a couple of vaccine players. But could an oral alternative disrupt the flu vaccine market down the line?

New data from Vaxart suggest it's possible. In a Phase I study, its H1N1 tablet vaccine generated protective immunity that measured up to on-the-market options, as measured by hemagglutinin inhibition assay.

As John Treanor, infectious disease chief at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a statement, there are some significant advantages to providing flu vaccines orally. For instance, tablet vaccines could be brought directly to users at work or school. They'd also avoid needle-phobia and have the potential for faster manufacturing and distribution, a factor that could come up big in the event of a pandemic or outbreak.

Right now, AstraZeneca's ($AZN) FluMist nasal spray is the only needle-free way to get vaccinated against seasonal flu. In June, that product won a nod from a key CDC committee, which recommended it be used in children 2 to 8 years old in lieu of traditional flu shots where available. About 90% of FluMist doses go to children, Kathleen Coelingh, senior director of U.S. medical affairs at MedImmune told FierceVaccines at the time.

But as in-Pharma Technologist notes, FluMist uptake has been hampered thanks to requirements that it needs to be kept refrigerated, which can complicate distribution and administration--requirements a tablet wouldn't necessarily share.

Influenza isn't the only market that could see a shake-up as oral vaccines come rolling in. Last year, Prokarium received a £400,000 ($600,000) grant from the U.K.'s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, in part for the development of an oral Clostridium difficile vaccine, IPT notes. Sanofi ($SNY) currently has a non-oral candidate in Phase III, while Pfizer's ($PFE) Phase II prospect nabbed an FDA fast-track nod in August.

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