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Swine Flu Plc: Cashing in on the pandemic

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Tim Persinko and Susie Mesure
London Independent
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, hit the swine flu panic button last week, warning the outbreak is confronting the NHS with its “biggest challenge in a generation”. But that didn’t mean everyone caught up in the hysteria that has even seen stoical commuters accessorise their work outfits with face masks was panicking.

For dozens of companies, including giant multinational corporations and tiny internet quacks, the outbreak of swine flu frenzy has turned into a licence to print money. And plenty of it. The disease’s explosive global advance has sent everyone from private citizens to national governments on a mass shopping spree to try to buy cures: catching swine flu might be not funny but anyone working for what increasingly looks like Swine Flu Inc is laughing all the way to the bank.

Not least GlaxoSmithKline, the British drugs company producing most of the country’s swine flu vaccine. As it moved to become the pharmaceutical group with the broadest range of products to tackle the pandemic, last week unveiling plans to sell masks and diagnostic kits to test for the disease as well as vaccines and antiviral medicines, industry analysts estimated GSK could make up to £1bn from sales of its swine flu vaccine alone. It already has orders for 195 million doses, which may cost £6 a dose in the UK, from 16 governments around the world.

Not that that’s any cause for apology, apparently. Andrew Witty, GSK’s chief executive, refused to be forced on to the defensive about the company’s windfall, despite accusations he was trying to turn the crisis into cash. “We are trying to strike a balance between society and our shareholders, who want to see a return on the risks we take,” he said. GSK’s investors have already seen a return on sales of Relenza, its antiviral drug: second-quarter results showed quarterly sales had increased twentyfold year-on-year to £60m, with first-half sales hitting £230m.

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This article was posted: Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 6:23 am





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