Vaccine sales are excpected to double, from $19 billion last year to $39 billion in 2013.
Omaha World Herald | Malaria. Tuberculosis. Alzheimer’s disease. AIDS. Pandemic flu. Genital herpes. Urinary tract infections. Grass allergies. Traveler’s diarrhea. You name it, the pharmaceutical industry is working on a vaccine to prevent it.
Many vaccines could be on the market in five years or less.
Contrast that with five years ago, when so many companies had abandoned the vaccine business that half the U.S. supply of flu shots was lost because of contamination at one of the two remaining manufacturers.
Vaccines are no longer a sleepy, low-profit niche in a booming drug industry. Today, they’re starting to give ailing drugmakers a shot in the arm.
The lure of big profits, advances in technology and growing government support have been drawing in new companies, from nascent biotechnology companies to Johnson & Johnson. That means that the recent remarkable strides in overcoming dreaded diseases and annoying afflictions probably will continue.
“Even if a small portion of everything that’s going on now is successful in the next 10 years, you put that together with the last 10 years, (and) it’s going to be characterized as a golden era,” says Emilio Emini, Pfizer Inc.’s head of vaccine research.
Vaccines are now viewed as a crucial path to growth, as drugmakers look for ways to bolster slowing prescription medicine sales amid intensifying generic competition and government pressure to reduce prices.
Unlike medicines that treat diseases, vaccines prevent infections by revving up the body’s natural immune defenses against invaders. They are made from viruses, bacteria or parts of them that have been killed or weakened so that they generally can’t cause an infection.
Investment in partnerships and other deals to develop and manufacture vaccines has been on a tear — and accelerating since the H1N1 flu pandemic began. Billions of dollars in government grants are helping to discover better, faster ways to develop and manufacture vaccines. Rising worldwide emphasis on preventive health care has further boosted their appeal.
While prescription drug sales are forecast to rise by a third in five years, vaccine sales should double, from $19 billion last year to $39 billion in 2013, predicts market research firm Kalorama Information. That’s five times the $8 billion in vaccine sales in 2004.
“What was essentially 25 years ago a rounding error now has become real money,” said Robin Robertson, director of the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority.
That jump is due to a couple of new blockbuster vaccines and rising use of existing ones. The government’s list of recommended vaccines for children has more than doubled since 1985, to 17. Guidelines now call for a half-dozen vaccines for everyone over 18 and as many as four more for some adults.
The past decade brought breakthrough vaccines against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus — two of the world’s top killers — meningitis, cervical cancer and more.
Better technology to create and mass-produce vaccines is bringing progress in preventing tropical dengue fever and superbugs such as MRSA and C. difficile, even ending addiction to cocaine and nicotine. Success on some vaccines in development, particularly for Alzheimer’s and AIDS, would probably bring in billions of dollars a year in sales.
Scientists — including some at Johnson & Johnson’s new vaccine partner, Holland’s Crucell NV — are working to develop the holy grail: a universal flu vaccine targeting a part of the virus that doesn’t change year to year.
And some future vaccines will come in patches, pills and nasal sprays, rather than shots.
Now many drugmakers are rethinking vaccines. Experts call the pneumonia vaccine Prevnar the “game changer.” Made by Wyeth, Prevnar was the first vaccine to exceed $1 billion in annual sales, followed by Merck’s cervical cancer shot Gardasil, with $2.3 billion in 2008 sales.
“Vaccines are now perhaps seen to be more attractive than drugs,” said Dr. Stanley Plotkin, a former University of Pennsylvania professor who helped develop the German measles and rotavirus vaccines.
Vaccines command higher prices — $375 for the three-shot Gardasil series — so they are more profitable than prescription drugs. With only one or two makers of most vaccines, price competition and generics are rare.
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