Vaccines have been one of the financial bright spots for GlaxoSmithKline, and Bexsero, which it picked up in its asset swap with Novartis, has had stellar sales. To boost both, GSK is building a $175 million plant in Germany so it can expand production of the meningococcal B shot.
The four-story, 9,000-square-meter antigen production plant is being built in Marburg, one of the sites GSK acquired when it traded some of its cancer operations to Novartis in exchange for most of the Swiss company’s vaccine operations. The company expects to start validation runs in the third quarter of 2020.
“With the construction of the meningococcal B plant, we are pleased to be moving production for three of the four active components of the meningococcal B vaccine to Marburg soon,” Jochen Reutter, manager of the 780,000 square-foot site, said in a statement.
The new facility will allow GSK to produce Bexsero proteins currently manufactured at a Sandoz plant in Kundl, Austria. GSK expects to fill the 100 jobs needed to operate the facility from within the Marburg site where about 1,300 people currently work.
To make room for the Bexsero expansion, GSK is transferring production of its diphtheria toxoid and tetanus toxoid from Marburg to its vaccine operation in Gödöllő, Hungary. It is adding a $61.5 million facility there to accommodate that work.
There were skeptics when GSK CEO Andrew Witty decided to trade off some older cancer drugs and concentrate on lower margin areas like vaccines and consumer products, but GSK has had success building on vaccines. The U.K. drugmaker recently reported that vax sales were up 14% in 2016 to about $5.73 billion, significantly outpacing growth in much larger pharma and consumer operations.
Bexsero has done particularly well, more than doubling sales in one year to about $486 million for 2016. In fact, GSK got caught off guard by its success last year, running into shortages for awhile.
A month after it got the vaccines from Novartis, it was able to end a yearlong pricing standoff Novartis had with the United Kingdom's National Health Service to get it added to the country's national immunization schedule for about 800,000 babies. But when parents of thousands of children missed the NHS program and showed up at private clinics to get their children vaccinated, shortages developed. GSK responded to the “unexpected global demand” and within a couple of months had boosted production of the shot.