Novartis rides high on Bexsero study results

Novartis ($NVS), still riding high on a European Medicine Agency committee backing of its meningitis vaccine Bexsero, confirmed more upbeat results from a study showing the shot offered broad protection to infants.

The pharma giant is banking on success of the shot to keep its vaccine unit afloat. A $7.5 billion acquisition of Chiron, completed in 2006, bankrolled the program. Should the European Union back Bexsero, which would be the first vaccine to protect against meningococcus B bacteria, Novartis stands to generate annual sales of $700 million by 2020 to $1.45 billion by 2016, depending on which analyst you ask.

So reports published in The Lancet showing a robust immune response to the vaccine in infants from 2 months of age is welcome news. The study involved 3,630 infants and researchers administered a three-dose primary series of vaccine along with routine vaccines. Toddlers responded well to a fourth dose administered at 12 months, which possibly contributes to extended length of protection.

"Our company has made a strong commitment to addressing the public health need for a vaccine that can provide broad protection against MenB," Andrin Oswald, division head of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, said in a statement. "The findings from this and other studies have built a substantial body of evidence showing that Bexsero can be an effective vaccine against this deadly disease. Upon the licensure of Bexsero, Novartis will be able to offer vaccines to help prevent all 5 of the most common and most virulent meningococcal serogroups."

In 2010, the Novartis vaccines and diagnostics division hit a high of $2.9 billion on revenue from influenza vaccines sold during the H1N1 flu pandemic. But last year, revenue reached only $2 billion, and the business suffered a $249 million operating loss. Bringing to market a meningitis vaccine could boost those numbers. The World Health Organization estimates that 170,000 people die worldwide each year from meningitis.

- read the Novartis release