AstraZeneca eyes 2014 EU launch for 4-in-1 flu vaccine after winning approval

When MedImmune won approval for its quadrivalent nasal flu vaccine back in February 2012, it kicked off the battle to claim a share of the next-generation influenza immunization market. Now, almost two years later, its parent company AstraZeneca ($AZN) has the race underway in Europe, too.

European Commission approval of Fluenz Tetra--called FluMist Quadrivalent in the U.S.--means AstraZeneca is the first company cleared to market a quadrivalent vaccine in the region. AstraZeneca will continue to sell the three-strain vaccine for the rest of this flu season before switching 100% of its output to Fluenz Tetra for 2014/2015. MedImmune has also decided to focus entirely on the quadrivalent vaccine in the U.S., unlike GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Sanofi ($SNY), which are marketing three- and four-strain vaccines.

The decision means the quadrivalent vaccine is set for widespread use in the United Kingdom, which has made Fluenz part of its childhood immunization program. All kids aged 2 and 3 are being offered the vaccine; eventually the scheme will expand to cover young people aged up to 16. Experience in the U.S. suggests AstraZeneca will sell the quadrivalent vaccine for more than its trivalent predecessor, but the premium will be less pronounced than that of its injectable rivals.

While GSK and Sanofi are charging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 50% more for quadrivalent shots, MedImmune only added 5% to the cost of the four-strain FluMist. The increase is in line with the price inflation of the trivalent vaccine over the 12-month period starting November 2011, suggesting it has little to do with the addition of an extra strain. FluMist has always sold at a premium in the U.S. because of its nasal delivery system.

Prices are lower across the board in Europe because the national governments that account for the bulk of sales are desperate to cut spending. Recent pricing pressures prompted the Merck-Sanofi European vaccine joint venture to question the sustainability of operating in the region. Sanofi is currently taking its quadrivalent seasonal flu vaccine through the European approval process. Whether it can use the extra protection offered by the vaccine to leverage price increases remains to be seen.

- here's AstraZeneca's release
- check out FiercePharma's take

Special Reports: Top 10 Best-Selling Flu Vaccines of 2012 | Top 5 Vaccine Companies by 2012 Revenue - Sanofi - GSK