Fears about influenza pandemics and the associated swine flu have brought the vaccine industry into the media spotlight recently. As profits soar and vaccine manufacturers struggle to meet the growing demand for seasonal flu vaccine, it is important not to overlook the other areas in the vaccine market that may also be poised for tremendous growth in the coming years.
The vaccine market today is composed of five main players and several smaller companies, with primarily low-margin vaccines aimed at prophylactic uses. The majority of these vaccines, including current flu vaccines, are manufactured via a cumbersome and antiquated egg-based production process. The high fixed cost associated with the manufacture of vaccines has prevented smaller players from entering this condensed market.
The vaccine industry will soon see a shift from conventional methods toward a new paradigm in which vaccines are manufactured quickly, at a lower cost, and by more players globally. This will be facilitated by new health initiatives in the world’s emerging economies, technological developments that will significantly advance the way in which vaccines are produced, and the introduction of therapeutic vaccines aimed at treating patients with specific conditions.
These new developments may soon disrupt the established vaccine market and create additional avenues for growth.
Economic improvements and growing government attention to public health agendas in emerging economies are leading to increased vaccination efforts such as national immunization programs. Driven by the aging population, increased purchasing power of the middle class, and improvements in healthcare funding, the need for vaccines is growing across all emerging economies, particularly in China.
Due to regulatory barriers for new entrants, the Chinese vaccine industry was heavily monopolized by China National Biotec Group; however, over the past two decades, the barriers have relaxed and the Chinese government has created initiatives to encourage research and development of new vaccines. Concurrently, about 50 new vaccine manufacturers are entering China’s $1 billion vaccine market.
This trend can also be seen in Brazil, where the Ministry of Health created a strategy to promote the development and production of vaccines among Brazilian manufacturers. As a result, the majority of vaccines administered in the country were provided by Brazilian producers. Within the majority of emerging economies, significant effort is being placed on national healthcare plans, which is also driving growth of the vaccine market.
This increased activity has not gone without notice. As growth slows within developed markets, big pharma is looking to emerging markets to offset the diminishing contributions. Recently, Novartis purchased an 85% stake in Zhejiang Tianyuan Bio-Pharmaceutical, a Chinese vaccine manufacturer controlling 3% of the total vaccine market in China. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is also aggressively pursuing entry points in many of the emerging markets. The company recently signed an exclusive 10-year agreement worth $2.2 billion to supply Brazil with its pneumococcal vaccine, and formed a partnership with Brazil’s Fiocruz foundation to develop vaccines for public health concerns.
GSK also acquired a 41% stake, valued at $31 million, in Shenzhen Neptunas Interlong Bio-technique to make flu vaccines for China. Sanofi-aventis continues to expand its presence through ongoing efforts to grow its employee base, establish more manufacturing plants and clinical development units, and maintain a relevant, broad product portfolio that caters to local needs. These initial movements into emerging economies have focused on investments in capacity and the identification of promising opportunities, factors that will be an immediate priority for big pharma.