Sanofi-Aventis, the Paris-based drugmaker that produces 40 percent of the world’s flu vaccines, is announcing today that it will donate 100 million doses of flu vaccine to the World Health Organization to help poor countries deal with the swine flu pandemic.
The announcement is being made this morning in Seattle at the Pacific Health Summit, the invitation-only gathering of 250 world leading scientists, public health officials, and businesses focused on global health.
“Exceptional times require exceptional responses. We need to act responsibly, and we all have to play our part,” said Sanofi-Aventis CEO Chris Viehbacher, in a company statement.
The World Health Organization officially declared a global pandemic of swine flu, known as the H1N1 viral strain, on June 11, after the virus had spread to 74 countries. The pandemic designation means that the disease is spreading easily between people and countries, although the severity of the outbreak is “moderate,” with most people experiencing only mild symptoms before recovering without any medical treatment, according to comments by WHO director general Margaret Chan in the New York Times. The declaration was expected to trigger drug makers to speed up output at flu vaccine factories over the coming months, according to the Times account.
The donation from Sanofi should give the WHO the flexibility to provide vaccines to people who are most vulnerable in poor countries, the company said in a statement. While giving away a product that can be profitable may sound more like a humanitarian decision than a business decision, Sanofi made it sound like it’s both.
“Becoming a global healthcare leader, and not just a pharmaceutical company focused on the U.S. and Europe is the heart of the Sanofi-Aventis strategy,” Viehbacher said in a statement. “The future of our industry is linked to the healthcare solutions that will be found for emerging countries.”
Sanofi currently has three major factories that make flu vaccine—two in Swiftwater, PA, and another in Val de Reuil, France. A second flu vaccine factory in Swiftwater, with capacity to produce 100 million doses a year, won FDA clearance on May 6. That’s twice as big as the current facility there, which is producing vaccine for the upcoming 2009/2010 flu season, the company said. The factory in France has capacity to make 120 million doses.
I’m attending the Pacific Health Summit today, and have scheduled an interview later in the day with Viehbacher while he’s in town for the meeting. I’ll be sure to add another post soon based on what he has to say.
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