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Vaccine rival set to grab business; Firm can step up production of flu spray.

Byline: TONY McDONOUGH Business Staff

A RIVAL to flu vaccine maker Chiron has said it is ready to grab a slice of its market in the New Year if the troubled firm does not rectify problems at its Liverpool factory.

Medimmune says its Speke plant, which employs around 130 people, is now gearing up to produce up to 8m doses of its nasal spray flu vaccine for the massive US market if required.

Chiron's licence to produce its vaccine, Fluvirin, was suspended in October after officials from the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found contamination in doses bound for the US.

The company was due to supply 48m doses for the 2004/05 US flu season, 50% of the country's requirements, but the shipment was scrapped costing the company pounds 150m in lost revenues.

The MHRA has extended the suspension for another three months from January 4 and now the Speke plant and its 600 workers face a race against time to get it lifted in time for the scheduled start of production in March.

Medimmune makes a nasal spray flu vaccine called Flumist and, prior to Chiron's suspension in October, the firm had produced just 1. 1m doses.

However, as the public health crisis in the US grew following the suspension the company stepped up its efforts and produced another 1. 9m doses.

Spokeswoman Clarencia Stephen told the Daily Post its Liverpool workers could, if required, produce 8m doses for the 2005/06 US flu season. She said: ``We have said that we could produce up to 8m doses for next season but no decision has yet been made and it is too early to say what the impact would be on our factory in Liverpool. ''

Medimmune suffered poor sales of Flumist last year when it produced 5m doses but the Chiron crisis has now opened the door for a big increase in sales. The product is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use for healthy adults and children aged over five and the firm would almost certainly be asked for extra supplies if Chiron was unable to resume production.

Chiron says it is still confident it will have the suspension lifted in time for the 2005/06 flu season.

Both it and the MHRA insist the extension of the licence suspension is not as a result of extra problems being identified at Speke but merely gave the firm more time to get its house in order.

Last month it was revealed senior managers at Chiron had lost their jobs over the fiasco. Andy Sneddon, the head of manufacturing and site director, is one of a number of people to have left.

CAPTION(S):

Rival producer; The production line of Chiron Vaccines, in Speke
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 31, 2004
Words:462
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