Novartis' vaccine unit gets a badly needed booster from the U.K.

The U.K.'s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is revising its stance on Novartis' ($NVS) meningitis B vaccine Bexsero. The jab, originally left off Britain's routine vaccination schedule, has gained the JCVI's nod, supplying a needed boost for the Swiss company's flailing vaccine unit.

As Reuters reports, the JCVI has recommended vaccination with Bexsero--the only approved shot for the deadly MenB infection--for infants from two months of age. It's the decision Novartis originally expected: After getting a European Medicines Agency (EMA) nod in early 2013, the Basel-based drugmaker had hoped the U.K. would be an early adopter, but it received a rude awakening when the JCVI shunned it last July.

Now that Bexsero is part of the U.K.'s program, Novartis' vaccines unit--which is banking on the product's success--should get a lift. Created in 2006 with the company's $7.5 billion Chiron buyout, Novartis' division has lagged behind competitors like Merck ($MRK), Sanofi ($SNY) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). It was also the only one of the company's units to post an operating loss in 2013, which totaled $165 million.

Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez

But that's not to say vaccines are Novartis' only subperforming puzzle piece. Along with the animal health and OTC divisions, it could be on the block as the pharma giant races ahead with its company-wide strategic review. As CEO Joe Jimenez told the news service, at least one of those three is not expected to make the cut. And after January rumors of a Merck-Novartis swap that would have sent the vaccines unit to New Jersey subsided, reports said it was drawing its fair share of suitors.

Meanwhile, Bexsero is picking up steam around the globe: After winning European approval last year, it grabbed OK's in Canada and Australia. And while the FDA has yet to dole out its approval, it's given the go-ahead for Bexsero immunization at Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, following MenB outbreaks on those campus.

- get more from Reuters

Special Reports: 20 Top-Selling Vaccines - H1 2012 | The top 10 pharma companies by 2013 revenue - Novartis

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