Vaccine manufacturers big winners in fight for government cash

The Guardian

United Kingdom

Sanofi Pasteur MSD highest paid pharma company on balance sheet, earning £28m from government over three months

Sarah Boseley, health editor
Friday 19 November 2010

A tantalising glimpse of some of the usually secret earnings of pharmaceutical companies is available from the spending breakdown of the Department of Health.

The big winners are vaccine manufacturers, who supply the department directly for nationwide immunisation programmes. Most medicines for use in the NHS are bought by individual trusts and GP practices.

The highest paid pharmaceutical company on the balance sheet was Sanofi Pasteur MSD, which earned £28m from the government over the three months from May to July.

Sanofi Pasteur MSD – not to be confused with Sanofi Aventis, which earned just £5.7m – supplies the vaccine given to all babies against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. It also sells booster shots, which children get at the age of four and as teenagers, as well as polio and Hib vaccines.

The next biggest pharmaceutical company payout was to Pfizer, one of the world’s biggest drug manufacturers. It earned £20m in three months from sales of its vaccine for pneumococcal disease, a cause of meningitis, which is also on the childhood immunisation schedule. The price of Pfizer’s vaccine will be much higher than the DPT vaccine, because it is new.

The surprise omission from the spending breakdown is the UK’s biggest drug company, GlaxoSmithKline. GSK, like Pfizer, sells vaccines as well as drugs. While most of its profits will be made from medicines sold directly to hospitals and GP practices, it has had two big money-earning vaccine deals with the government, to supply vaccines for flu during the pandemic and for cervical cancer.

The flu vaccine deal was agreed when there were fears that swine flu could be devastating. The government signed a contract for 60m doses, enough to vaccinate the entire population. In the event, swine flu proved milder than had been feared by the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, and other experts, but the government found it hard to back out of the deal. Eventually GSK agreed to supply only the stock that had already been manufactured, which was 34.8m doses.

Neither GSK nor the government would talk about the price of the vaccine, but the government said in September last year that it would be spending £155.4m over four years on swine flu vaccine, which would include payments to Baxter Healthcare, which had a 30m-dose contract with the government that proved easier to cancel.

The contract to supply the new cervical cancer vaccine for the national immunisation programme for teenage girls was hard-fought. Sanofi Pasteur MSD offered Gardasil, which it was marketing in Europe on behalf of the US company Merck. It has an advantage over GSK’s Cervarix, because it protects not just against the main strains of the humanpapilloma virus which cause cervical cancer, but also against genital warts.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.