Quick Take: Novartis Vaccine Chief Andrin Oswald on Swine Flu and Vaccine Business

Xconomy Boston — 

It’s been a year since Andrin Oswald took over as CEO of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, the 5th-largest vaccine business in the world, headquartered right here in Cambridge, MA. I met up with Oswald before he gave a keynote speech at a recent MIT Enterprise Forum event, and he took a few minutes to give me his perspective on innovation in the vaccine industry—and, of course, on swine flu.

Novartis is on the front lines of the effort to combat swine flu, aka H1N1, which the World Health Organization classified as a pandemic in June. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has contracted Novartis to produce 90 million doses of H1N1 vaccine for the U.S. population by the end of November.

In Cambridge, the Novartis now has more than 100 researchers dedicated to the development of future vaccines for multiple types of infections, Oswald told me. Globally, the vaccines unit of the Swiss drug giant employed 4,774 people and reported $1.8 billion in revenue in 2008 (accounting for only 4 percent of sales at Novartis). But the vaccines unit hired about 1,000 new employees over the summer, mostly in manufacturing, to enable the firm to answer swelling demand for flu vaccine.

The company is also building its first cell-based vaccine manufacturing facility in the U.S., in Holly Springs, NC, where the raw material for the vaccine will be grown in cultured cells rather than chicken eggs, as has been the practice for some five decades. HHS is contributing $486 million to the development of the North Carolina vaccine plant in return for priority access to it in the event of another pandemic like H1N1, according to Oswald.

Andrin Oswald

Andrin Oswald

Here are some excerpts from my brief yet informative chat with Oswald before he took the podium at MIT:

Xconomy: What makes Novartis’ technology and process for developing vaccines differen from what other companies have?

Andrin Oswald: I think what makes us unique is … Next Page »

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