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GSK and UK government agree meningitis B vaccine deal

Published on 30/03/15 at 10:40am
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The UK government has agreed a deal with GlaxoSmithKline to provide its meningitis B vaccine Bexsero on the NHS, after a year-long ‘stand-off’ with its previous manufacturer Novartis.

The government was advised to provide the vaccine for all children over two months old in 2014, but a deal has been delayed due to protracted negotiations over the cost of the drug with Novartis, much to the frustration of campaigners.

“We had a standoff for the best part of a year with the company that used to own this vaccine,” health secretary Jeremy Hunt says, “but since GSK have come on board they have reduced the price, and that means we can now go ahead this year with rolling it out”.

Details of Bexsero’s price are commercially confidential, but reports have suggested it will be around £20 per shot, less than a third of its list price. GSK acquired the drug from Novartis in March as part of the companies’ asset-swap deal, in which the UK firm sold its oncology business.

In a statement the company adds: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with the Department of Health that will enable babies in the UK to receive this vaccine through the NHS immunisation schedule.

“We believe the agreement we have reached offers fair value for the NHS and allows a reasonable return for GSK to ensure that we can continue to invest in creating new treatments and vaccines.”

Meningitis B is the most common form of meningitis in the UK, but it has taken much longer than other types of the disease to produce an inoculation for. It leads to death in 10% of all cases and to long-term after effects in a further 36 per cent.

Chris Head, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, says: “Meningitis B has been at the top of this charity's agenda for decades and we are delighted that vaccinating all babies against this devastating disease is now within sight, cementing the UK’s position as a world leader in meningitis prevention.

“We do however remain concerned that there is no recommendation for teenagers, the second highest ‘at risk’ group, to be routinely vaccinated. Vaccinating this age group has the potential to protect the wider population because they are key to transmission and spread.”

The agreement means that UK will become the first country in the world to have a nationwide meningitis B vaccination programme. Babies will first receive a shot at two months old, followed by further shots at four months and twelve months.

This month the Department of Health also announced it is planning a jab to the immunisation schedule to prevent the transmission of meningococcal group W (MenW) disease.

The DoH's independent advisory committee, the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), advised the government to implement a combined MenACWY immunisation offered to 14 to 18 year olds.

JCVI chair Dr Andrew Pollard says: “We have seen an increase in MenW cases this winter caused by a highly aggressive strain of the bug. We reviewed the outbreak in detail at JCVI and concluded that this increase was likely to continue in future years unless action is taken.

"We have therefore advised the Department of Health to implement a vaccination programme for teenagers as soon as possible which we believe will have a substantial impact on the disease and protect the public’s health.”

George Underwood

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