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Novartis loss-making vaccines division gets British boost

The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is seen at its headquarters in Basel October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is seen at its headquarters in Basel October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - The turnaround prospects for Novartis' loss-making vaccines division were given a boost on Friday as a key committee recommended including the Swiss drugmaker's meningitis B vaccine on Britain's routine vaccination program.

The Basel-based drugmaker said the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) had recommended that infants from two months of age be vaccinated with Bexsero to help protect against "MenB", a bacterial infection that can kill in 24 hours and poses the greatest risk to infants.

Bexsero is seen as crucial to Novartis' vaccines business, which has struggled to catch up with the market leaders - GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and Merck - and was the only one of the Swiss company's five divisions to report a full-year operating loss in 2013.

Novartis is currently considering the future of the business as part of a portfolio review, which is also examining the drugmaker's two other sub-scale businesses, animal health and over-the-counter drugs.

The drugmaker's Chief Executive Joe Jimenez told Reuters that at least one of the three is not expected to make the cut.

Bexsero won European approval last year to become the first vaccine against meningitis B.

It has also been given the green light from regulators in Canada and Australia and has been approved for use at several universities in the United States in an effort to stop outbreaks of meningitis across campuses.

The UK committee revised its original opinion against including Bexsero in the routine vaccination program following a review of further evidence, Novartis said. It hopes Bexsero will be available free on Britain's National Health Service as early as this summer.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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