* Novartis seeks to sell Bexsero as soon as possible
* Commercial success depends on govts' vaccination plans
* Formal approval follows panel backing last November
ZURICH, Jan 22 Novartis won European
approval for the first vaccine against meningitis B and is
seeking to persuade cash-strapped governments to add it to
routine vaccination programs to ensure the drug's commercial
The Swiss company, Europe's second-largest drugmaker by
market value after hometown rival Roche, needs profits
from vaccines to help offset its reliance on prescription drugs
ahead of a wave of patent expiries.
"Novartis is working with health authorities to provide
access to Bexsero as soon as possible," the company said on
There is currently no approved vaccine offering broad
protection against "MenB," a type of meningitis caused by
bacteria that leads to inflammation of the lining around the
brain and spinal cord. It can kill within 24 hours.
"We don't expect a rapid ramp-up for Bexsero, since Novartis
will need the support of each single E.U. member state to obtain
inclusion into the national immunization program and the
reimbursement scheme," Kepler Capital Markets analyst Fabian
Analysts expect the European market for Bexsero to be $600
million to $700 million, a far cry from Novartis's top-selling
blood pressure drug Diovan, which had sales of $5.7 billion in
Novartis shares fell in early trading in profit-taking ahead
of Wednesday's fourth-quarter earnings report, according to
dealers. At midday, the shares were 0.9 percent lower, lagging a
flat European healthcare sector.
Bexsero's approval could provide a fillip for Novartis'
money-losing vaccines business. Vaccines, a growing market
expected to reach $40 billion by 2015 according to the Center
for Vaccine Ethics and Policy, are less exposed to the generic
competition faced by Diovan.
Kepler repeated its "hold" rating on Novartis shares, saying
the company faces a tough year.
"Diovan monotherapy is yet to see generic and multiple
generic competition in the U.S., while consensus estimates for
the new respiratory franchise are likely too high," Wenner said.
Novartis is seeking to challenge GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK.L>
traditional domination of lung drugs by launching products such
as QVA149, a treatment against chronic obstructive pulmonary
Wenner said Novartis had the potential to increase margins
in the longer term as it moves towards speciality drugs, such as
cancer treatment Tasigna.
Around 10 percent of those who contract meningitis B die,
despite appropriate treatment, and up to 20 percent of survivors
suffer from serious disabilities such as brain damage and
hearing impairment. Infants are at highest risk.
Novartis won a European panel backing for Bexsero in