ACIP recommendation gives Novartis a new growth opportunity

Amid all the speculation about the future of its vaccine unit, Novartis' ($NVS) is continuing to try and turn the business into the consistently profitable market leader it envisaged when it bought Chiron. This week, it received a small boost when the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) backed Menveo.

The ACIP decision comes two months after the FDA expanded its label for the meningococcal vaccine. Menveo is now cleared for use in babies aged two months and older, and ACIP has recommended use in infants up to the age of 23 months, but only in certain instances. The vaccine is now recommended for infants considered at high risk for meningococcal disease, either because they are traveling to areas where the disease is common, or because they have asplenia, Family Practice News reports.

With U.S. kids suffering few cases of meningococcal disease, this limits the impact of the recommendation. "Very few children are considered at increased risk, so a routine recommendation would prevent just a very low number of cases," CDC epidemiologist Jessica MacNeil said. The recommendation nonetheless creates an opportunity for Novartis and gives healthcare providers another option. GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) MenHibrix and Sanofi's ($SNY) Menactra are also approved, but both are unsuitable for certain situations.

Menveo has been a positive for Novartis recently, with its sales helping the vaccine unit post a slight year-over-year increase in revenue in the third quarter. The unit was profitable too, but losses incurred in the previous two quarters mean it is still in the red over the first 9 months of 2013. Novartis is looking to its meningitis B vaccine Bexsero to deliver a better 2014 and is urging investors to look beyond its struggle to win reimbursement in the U.K.

"There is a global market, and we're working with several countries in Europe, in Australia, and Canada, for example, to make that product available, and we do expect to see significant sales from Bexsero coming next year," Andrin Oswald, head of vaccines and diagnostics at Novartis, said in the company's third-quarter results call.

- here's the Family Practice News article
- check out the call transcript