Protein Sciences plans for battle with vaccine giants

After winning FDA approval for its influenza vaccine in January, Protein Sciences was faced with a problem: how to wrest market share from Sanofi ($SNY), Novartis ($NVS) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). The task is complicated by the fact that, as yet, there is little evidence to show it is more effective than rivals.

Where the vaccine, Flublok, does differ, is in manufacturing. Flublok is made in reactors of insect cells. The radically different approach to vaccine production should speed manufacturing startup and end the need to have a reliable supply of uncontaminated eggs. It also produces vaccines of a slightly different composition, and this is what Protein Sciences will leverage in its marketing.

Flublok is made without eggs or live flu virus. And the product is free from ingredients--such as nonylphenol ethoxylate, formaldehyde, beta-propiolactone and thimerosal--that are criticized by antivaccine campaigners. Protein Sciences thinks this is an opportunity for Flublok. If vegans or people with egg allergies are unwilling or unable to use conventional vaccines, Flublok could be an alternative. The same goes for people unwilling to use vaccines for fear of being infected by the live flu virus, or developing cancer from formaldehyde. While regulators say these fears are unfounded, they nonetheless stop some people from being vaccinated.

Manon Cox, CEO of Protein Sciences

The plan is to pitch Flublok to these consumers. "I believe that a recombinant protein vaccine is just a higher quality product. Many people are aware of this product, and many people want it. People want something pure," Protein Sciences CEO Manon Cox told Xconomy. If Cox's plans come to fruition, Flublok could line the shelves at Whole Foods with a premium price tag. A cost of $30 per shot is being considered, nearly three times what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generally pays manufacturers.

As GlobalData analyst Ramya Kartikeyan notes, the strategy could draw fire from other vaccinemakers, given the lack of evidence for some antivaccine claims. But Cox is comfortable with the strategy if the allaying of fears means more people get vaccinated. Another potential problem for Flublok is how to convince vaccine skeptics. While Flublok eases some of the concerns, it could create new objections too. Some are already pointing to the use of genetically engineered insect cells as a reason to avoid Flublok.

- read the Xconomy article
- here's the CDC price list