NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
GlaxoSmithKline said it has taken steps to ramp up vaccine production to protect against avian flu following last week's meeting at the White House with President Bush, and other drug giants that participated in the meeting have offered to help.
GlaxoSmithKline (down $0.71 to $50.98, Research) said it plans to double its annual flu vaccine production of 35 million doses "in the coming years." The company recently poured $2 billion into the expansion of its flu vaccine manufacturing capacity and is bolstering production of its antiviral Relenza, also known as zanamivir.
GlaxoSmithKline also said its proposed acquisition of ID Biomedical, a Canadian vaccine maker, would help build up North American capacity. The company recently bought a vaccine plant in Marietta, Penn., and is also expanding its vaccine-making facilities in Dresden, Germany.
"We have been working with the U.S. government, as well as governments and health authorities around the world, to outline our antiviral and flu vaccine capabilities, and identify how they fit into preparations for pandemic flu," said GlaxoSmithKline Chief Executive Officer Jean-Pierre Garnier after the Friday meeting. "We will work with President Bush to do everything we can to support the U.S. government's efforts."
Bush also met on Friday with Richard Clark of Merck (up $1.05 to $26.90, Research), Robert Essner of Wyeth (down $0.23 to $45.48, Research), David Mott of MedImmune (down $0.01 to $32.92, Research), Howard Pien of Chiron (down $0.24 to $43.08, Research) and David Williams of Aventis Pasteur, the vaccine-making subsidiary of Sanofi-Aventis (down $0.09 to $42.15, Research). The meeting is the administration's latest effort in preparing for the possibility of an avian flu pandemic. Avian flu, also known as H5N1, is a virus that can be transmitted from birds to humans and has killed at least 60 people in Asia. The Senate has approved $3.9 billion to stockpile medications against the threat of a pandemic.
Ian Spatz, vice president of public policy for Merck, said that Clark pledged to help Bush, even though Merck does not produce the flu vaccine. Spatz said Merck would help to package the bulk vaccine, produced by another company, into a form that could be injected into patients.
"We're also looking at the next generation of flu vaccine, which would not be based on the egg-based production technology," said Spatz, referring to the time-consuming process of growing vaccines inside a chicken egg.
Douglas Petkus of Wyeth said his company also does not make the flu vaccine but was prepared to answer to the needs of the government in any way it could. Petkus said Wyeth demonstrated this following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when it produced 10 million doses of smallpox vaccine at the behest of the government.
"We do have an interest of working for the government when asked, and we've answered that call in the past," said Petkus.
To read about the billions of dollars the U.S. government is spending on bird flu vaccine, click here.