Positive H7N9 data could help Novartis hawk flu vax business

After agreeing to unload most of its struggling vaccines unit to GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Novartis ($NVS) now has just its influenza vaccines to ship off as it looks to focus on other core businesses. And new, promising data for the Swiss drug giant's H7N9 bird flu candidate could give the company a boost as it looks to lock down a buyer.

To allow for producing larger vaccine quantities in the event of a pandemic, a team of researchers produced MF59-adjuvanted A/H7N9--the first H7N9 cell culture vaccine--using cells from a dog's kidney. In a study involving 400 healthy adults, 78% of subjects experienced a protective immune response after receiving two doses of the adjuvanted vaccine, compared with only 7% who received the non-adjuvanted jab.

"We're taking a virus already adapted to humans and amplifying it in a cell culture," Niranjan Kanesa-thasan, head of special projects at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics and a co-author of the study, told LiveScience. Results were published this week in Science Translational Medicine.

While the team told LiveScience it was confident the vaccine would work in the field, its true test won't come until people gain exposure to the virus itself, which has infected 375 and killed 115, according to the World Health Organization.

In the meantime, results could interest prospective suitors for the company's influenza vaccines. After negotiating a $7.1 billion sale of the rest of its vax lineup to heavyweight GlaxoSmithKline, flu shots--which Glaxo already has--will be the last group to go; analysts say the business, once part of a unit that posted an operating loss of $165 million, is worth about $500 million.

- read the abstract from STM
- see LiveScience's take

Special Report: Top 5 Vaccine Companies by Revenue - 2012 - Novartis

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