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Who is making a profit from swine flu?

Anjana Ahuja
London Times [1]
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who knew that misplaced mucus could be such a moneyspinner? The rel-entless headlines about swine flu, and the seemingly contradictory public health advice — to shut or not to shut schools, whether pregnant women should or shouldn’t venture on public transport — has provided a window of commercial opportunity for enterprising souls. While it has instigated panic in some quarters, the pandemic has been a business bonanza for others.

So who is fattening up their piggy banks on the back of swine flu, and who else might be rubbing their hands with glee (and antibacterial handwash, of course)?

Drug companies

In terms of the share price, Roche is rocketing and GSK might as well stand for Great Swine flu Killing. The profits being reaped by these companies in the wake of the pandemic have been rising faster than the mercury in an old-fashioned thermometer.

Roche expects to have flogged 2 billion Swiss francs (around £1.2 billion) of Tamiflu by the end of this year, but what most people don’t realise is that another company, Gilead, actually made the drug and licensed its use to Roche (this kind of alliance allows smaller, innovative companies to harness the marketing muscle of larger companies). Gilead earns healthy royalties on every pack of Tamiflu. Interestingly, Gilead’s board of directors used to be chaired by Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defence Secretary.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) also expects to report a bumper balance sheet for the first half of the year. It manufactures Relenza, an inhaled alternative, suitable for pregnant women, as well as antiviral masks expected to be used widely by healthcare workers during a predicted autumn resurgence. GSK is also the main force behind the swine flu vaccine, which should be ready for delivery in the autumn and will cost about £6 a shot.

GSK remains rightly unbothered by accusations that it is exploiting the scare, pointing out that it has spent £2.5 billion researching vaccine development.

Full article here [1]