GSK yanks all doses of quadrivalent flu jab for potency problems


This past season's flu vaccines posted one of the worst efficacy rates in recent memory. That's partly because the viral strains they contained weren't the ones that ended up circulating.

But on top of that, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has uncovered some other effectiveness problems of its own--and now it's recalling a quadrivalent jab in a move that affects 1.7 million doses.

GSK is rounding up all remaining doses of FluLaval Quadrivalent Thimerosal-Free vaccine in prefilled syringes, a decision the company made after routine testing unveiled a loss of potency that hit below required levels. That means the vaccine can become less effective over time, spokeswoman Anna Padula told FiercePharma in a statement.

As Padula told the AP, more than 99% of the vaccines were distributed in 2014, before their potency began waning. But it's unclear how many doses remain out there on the market, she said.

The recall is part of a year flu vaccine manufacturers would like to forget. In the face of a mutated strain of the flu virus, their jabs posted paltry protection rates in the U.S. In March, the CDC reported that influenza vaccines were just 19% effective in preventing medical visits. Over the past three years, that same stat has hovered around 50%--which shows how far short this season's vaccines have fallen.

Luckily for Glaxo, though, its U.S. quadrivalent launch helped it amp up FluLaval sales before things took a downturn. Sales of Fluarix and FluLaval together increased by 25% on the year, hitting £251 million for 2014.

GSK will need those padded vaccine revenues in the face of its multibillion-dollar asset swap with Novartis ($NVS). After sending its oncology assets to the Swiss drugmaker, GSK sees its newly beefed-up vaccines unit taking a turn in the sun. The British drugmaker expects the vaccines business to churn out 14% of company sales going forward.

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