Novartis signs Middle East vaccine production deal

pharmafile | November 9, 2010 | News story | Manufacturing and Production Agrippal, Arabio, Novartis, Quinvaxem, meningitis vaccine Menveo, vaccines 

Novartis has forged an alliance with a Saudi Arabian manufacturer to help it expand its vaccines business in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region and neighbouring countries.

The Arab Company for Pharmaceutical Products (Arabio) is constructing a manufacturing facility in Makkah Almokarramah, with technical assistance from Novartis’ Vaccines and Diagnostics divisions, which should start operating in early 2011.

Novartis has signed a 20-year agreement with Arabio that will see it transfer production technology and expertise for three of its commonly-used vaccines to the new facility, including the Swiss firm’s recently-introduced meningitis vaccine Menveo, pentavalent childhood vaccine Quinvaxem and flu shot Agrippal.

“The initial basis of the agreement is for the distribution and licensing of Menveo, Quinvaxem and Agrippal in Saudi Arabia and around 20 Middle Eastern and African countries, said a spokeswoman for Novartis Vaccines.

“Arabio will initially start by acting as an agent, then progress to local packaging of vaccines, and ultimately to a formulation and filling operation,” she added.

The 10,000 sq. m. Makkah site has an 850 sq. m. sterile production area, a 450 sq. m. packaging unit and around 750 sq. m of storage and warehousing space, according to Arabio’s website.

When production ramps up in the early part of 2011, the Saudi firm will be able to produce 35 million doses of the vaccines in the form of vial injections, as well as 7 million doses of vaccine in the form of pre-filled syringes every year, said Novartis.

It is significant that the agreement covers a meningitis vaccine, as Saudi Arabia insists that visitors to the country for the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages have an up-to-date vaccination against meningococcal meningitis if they are to gain access to the country.

“There is a significant unmet need in countries with large Muslim populations participating in the Hajj/Umrah pilgrimages, as these pilgrimages create crowded conditions that may increase the risk of contracting meningococcal disease,” said the spokeswoman.

The annual pilgrimage attracts approximately 2 million people from more than 140 countries and, as a result of overcrowding, has been associated with outbreaks of meningococcal disease in the past.  

In 2000, for example, an outbreak of the W-135 strain of Neisseria meningitides caused more than 400 cases of meningococcal disease among Hajj pilgrims, and led to the international spread of the disease.  

“This strategic partnership with Arabio provides us with an opportunity to strengthen our presence in the region with several vaccines to help protect hundreds of thousands of children and adults from meningitis and other infectious diseases,” said Novartis.

Phil Taylor

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