"Swine flu" was the phrase of the day as GlaxoSmithKline chief Andrew Witty chatted with analysts and reporters about second-quarter earnings. The company is prepping for a huge sales boost from antivirals, vaccines, and other flu-related products--some £3 billion ($4.9 billion) worth. And it's not just the company that's benefiting: the production ramp-up has brought 160 laid-off workers back to a GSK factory in France.
Already the U.S. government has pledged $250 million for vaccine ingredients. Sixteen countries have contracted for the shots, including a 60 million-dose contract from the U.K. And the company is negotiating with 50 more countries on vaccine deals. Meanwhile, countries around the world are stockpiling Relenza, the company's antiflu med. Second-quarter Relenza sales reached $99 million, up from $5 million year over year. And the Relenza growth has just begun; the company is gearing up to triple production of the drug to 190 million doses. Plus, the company plans to donate 10 percent of its Relenza supplies and at least 50 million vaccine doses to poor countries.
Getting ready to tackle swine flu has cost a lot of money, Witty said. Glaxo has invested $2.5 billion over the past couple of years to develop the technology and capacity for production of a pandemic vaccine and pandemic meds. And it's not just drugs and vaccines. The company has developed an antiviral face mask, Actiprotect, as well, and announced this week that it's partnering with Enigma to work up a quick H1N1 diagnostic test. "Short of putting beds in the labs, we are throwing just about every resource we have into this," Witty says.
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