Pandemic offers AstraZeneca a blockbuster return

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Anyone who still thinks that AstraZeneca paid too much when it offered a hefty premium for MedImmune's shares should check out a new report from Jefferies International, which estimates that the global swine flu windfall will be worth around $2.3 billion in new sales for the Maryland manufacturer in 2009 and 2010.

MedImmune is putting its FluMist nasal spray technology to the test against swine flu. FluMist, which got off to a shaky start in the U.S., brought in only $104 million last year, a fraction of what the big global manufacturers have been able to earn with their flu shots. But all those naysayers who scorned the terms of the MedImmune buyout in the face of such weak performance could well be silenced by the rewards available when a pandemic hits. AstraZeneca plans to make 200 million doses of swine flu vaccine by next spring.

"This puts MedImmune in a better light and helps pay back some of that $15 billion," Jefferies analyst Jeffrey Holford told Bloomberg in an interview. "This is the first positive surprise that's tangible."

MedImmune has already started recruiting for human trials, saying it will test the vaccine in children aged 3 to 17 and adults aged 18 to 49. Preliminary data may be available in a matter of weeks.