The Wall Street Journal yesterday highlighted how smart Pfizer had been in acquiring the vaccines manufacturer Wyeth. With the blockbuster business model for pharma having been on the wane for some time, it’s been imperative for all pharma to develop a new model to ensure their survival. Other models include focusing on niche-busters such as Gleevec (a targeted cancer drug) or orphan drugs such as Cerezyme (for the rare Gaucher disease); another is developing biosimilars and this is where Wyeth’s vaccine expertise has come in very handy. Most biological medicines (developed from living systems or organisms) consist of such large molecules that they have to be administered by injection or infusion. The great hope is that these biologicals will not only offer different treatment options but enable treatment of disease that was previously beyond the scope of traditional chemical medicines. Biosimilars are copy-cat versions of the original innovative biological medicine, but because the manufacturing process is much more complex than for traditional medicines, it’s not hard to genuinely make the claim that your product is ‘similar’ but not the same, as opposed to generic medicines that cannot claim to have a different active ingredient from the original formulation. It’s complex.
As biologics are the fasting growing sector of the pharma market, other companies such as Eli Lilly who acquired Imclone last year have seen this innovative market as worth the investment. But on the ground it will be interesting to see whether the corollary to this trend for biologics is that vaccine delivery of medicines becomes more ‘acceptable’, as in the news today is a call from the Lancashire Director of Public Health that MMR should be made compulsory for school attendance. Although uptake of the MMR has been gradually improving in most areas of the country, Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous legacy of MMR suspicion lingers. Certification of immunisation is compulsory for access to state education in France and in many American States. Personally I totally support this and consider it negligent not to immunise children against infections that can cause serious problems not just for the individual but for those around them too.