GlaxoSmithKline forges ahead with hunt for Chinese vaccine partners

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) may be suffering through a corruption scandal in China, but that hasn't interfered with its plans to team up with a Chinese company on vaccines. Its talks with potential partners are still on track, Christophe Weber, GSK's vaccines chief, told Bloomberg.

China remains one of the fastest-growing drug markets in the world, with government healthcare expanding into the provinces and to millions of new patients. That's why Big Pharma has been stampeding into the market, ramping up R&D, marketing and manufacturing to grab market share.

And as China revamps its healthcare system, immunization schedules are likely to expand, too, Weber noted. "[W]e want to be there and to be a partner when that happens," he said.

The vaccine deal-making underscores the importance of China to Glaxo, which is scrambling to put out the fires that keep popping up in the country. In June, its R&D chief was fired for falsifying data, and earlier this month, Chinese authorities detained four senior execs in connection with a corruption probe. Now, the New York Times is reporting that an audit raised major red flags with its Chinese R&D operations, after a lickety-split period of growth there.

Glaxo has experience teaming up with foreign partners on vaccines. The company has a deal with Daiichi Sankyo in Japan and an Indian joint venture with Biological E. In Japan, the Daiichi joint venture was set to begin by jointly marketing already approved shots, such as Glaxo's HPV vaccine Cervarix. Then, the J.V. would move on to develop and launch other products, including Glaxo immunizations not already approved in Japan.

But Weber also sees these match-ups as a way to develop specific vaccines for regional populations, Bloomberg notes. In India, for instance, Glaxo is looking to add its own polio vaccine to Biological E's pentavalent shot against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza.

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