TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Merck & Co. has entered a deal with tiny vaccine maker MassBiologics to distribute its vaccine against tetanus and diphtheria in 49 states, in the big drugmaker’s latest move to remain dominant in vaccines.
Merck will start distributing the Td vaccine in June throughout the U.S. except for Massachusetts. MassBiologics, a 116-year-old nonprofit vaccine developer now run by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, will continue to distribute the vaccine in that state. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Tetanus and diphtheria are both bacterial illnesses whose incidence has greatly been reduced by vaccines.
“This agreement is another example of how Merck engages in partnerships that will enable us to bring the most robust portfolio of products to our customers,” Dr. Soren Bo Christiansen, Merck’s head of adolescent and adult vaccines, said in a statement.
Merck, the world’s second-biggest drugmaker by sales, has long been a pioneer in development of vaccines and the market leader by revenue.
It’s now in a neck-and-neck race with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC for the lead in the fast-growing vaccine market. The two rivals in recent years each have launched lucrative vaccines against human papilloma virus, which causes cervical and other cancers, and rotavirus, which lands thousands of American toddlers in the hospital each year and kills many more overseas.
Unlike prescription drugs, vaccines rarely face generic competition and so bring in steady revenue for decades, and governments around the world have been expanding their use to fight preventable illnesses. Vaccines, many of which require periodic booster shots, are expected to produce roughly $25 billion in global sales this year and jump to about $39 billion in 2013.
The new deal fills a gap in Merck’s extensive vaccine lineup, enabling its sales representatives to encourage doctor loyalty by offering pediatricians and other physicians one-stop shopping for nearly every vaccine they provide to patients.
Last September, Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck reached a deal with Australian vaccine maker CSL Ltd. to distribute its Afluria seasonal flu shot in the U.S. for the flu seasons running from 2010-11 through 2015-16. CSL previously had been only a minor provider of flu shots among the five companies supplying the U.S. market, producing about 8 million Afluria doses last year.
As a result of the CSL deal, Merck will be marketing eight of the 10 vaccines U.S. health officials recommend for adults, on top of standard children’s vaccines against diseases including chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B and Haemophilus influenza type B.
Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is caused by bacteria found in soil and can enter the body through a cut or wound. It kills about one in five infected patients. Booster shots are required every 10 years.
Diphtheria, which is spread by coughing and sneezing, can cause temporary paralysis and abnormal heart rhythms.
MassBiologics’ Td vaccine has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration since 1970, for use in people aged 7 years and older. Normally, it is given in a series of three shots. Potential side effects include swelling and tenderness at the injection site, headache, malaise and elevated temperature.
Date: April 21, 2010
Source: Associated Press