Swine flu a bonus for Glaxo's Relenza flu drug

Wed Jul 22, 2009 11:58pm EDT

* Relenza production to triple

* New antiviral mask also winning approval

WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) - The pandemic of H1N1 swine flu has been a bonus for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.N), which makes the inhaled flu drug, a vaccine and special antiviral masks, the company said on Wednesday.

The world's second-biggest drug maker said orders for a vaccine against H1N1 helped drive up second-quarter earnings with more to come.

The company also said it was boosting production of its inhaled influenza drug Relenza, known generically as zanamivir, as the pandemic has worsened.

"As a result, GSK now expects to increase its annual production capacity of Relenza to 190 million treatment courses by the end of 2009. This represents a threefold increase to GSK's previous maximum capacity of 60 million treatment courses," the company said in a statement.

Relenza is one of two drugs approved for use against H1N1. Some samples of the virus have begun to show signs of resistance to Tamiflu, the pill made by Roche AG (ROG.VX) under license from Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O), so some governments are ordering more Relenza just in case this trend worsens.

Glaxo has adapted two technologies for delivering asthma drugs, a Diskhaler and Rotacaps. The Rotacaps, which deliver the dry drug powder in capsules to an inhaler device, have temporary approval from Sweden and the company said it was working with other governments to approve it.

"GSK has contracts in place to supply Relenza to over 60 governments. GSK has also allocated 10 percent of its new Relenza production capacity for developing countries," the company said, including 2 million doses of Relenza to the World Health Organization.

The company also hopes to profit from its disposable respirator, a specially fitted type of mask, which has an antiviral coating.

"Actiprotect has been approved for use in Europe and certain international markets and last month was approved for occupational use in the United States by the FDA," the company said. It has limited capacity to make the masks, however.

While surgical masks were popular during the worst of the H1N1 epidemic in Mexico, experts say they do little to protect wearers, and even respirators must be used carefully to be useful.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox)

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California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

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