CHILDHOOD INFECTIONS: Big Sales Expected For AHP Vaccine
A new vaccine developed by American Home Products Corp.'s Wyeth Lederle Vaccines division "proved remarkably successful" in preventing pneumococcal infections, such as bacterial meningitis, blood poisoning and pneumonia. Preliminary trials also revealed the vaccine's effectiveness against ear infections, the Wall Street Journal reports. Following expected approval by the Food and Drug Administration, the vaccine could be available within a year and be added to the list of immunizations given to children during their first two years. The bacterial culprit targeted by the vaccine kills more than 1 million toddlers annually in the developing world and claims between 1,500 and 3,000 victims in the U.S. each year. In addition, it causes middle ear infections that prompt 30 million visits annually to pediatricians in the U.S. (Winslow, 9/28). Experts predict the new weapon could reduce those visits by 10% and alleviate illnesses that cause "a huge drain on the medical system" (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/26). In addition, the Contra Costa Times reports that the worldwide "market for the vaccine could be huge, as parents are expected to clamor for a way to prevent deadly or disabling infections." Wyeth has not yet named the vaccine or set a price. "An analyst who follows the industry said she doesn't yet have a revenue estimate for the vaccine," but predicts it might surpass the Wyeth rotovirus vaccine for diarrhea, which is expected to generate $50 million for the company this year (Appleby, 9/28).
The clinical trial for the vaccine enlisted 38,000 children in the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, CA, half of whom received the vaccine shots at two, four and six months, followed by a booster shot at 12 to 15 months. The remaining 19,000 children unknowingly received placebo shots, to serve as the vaccine's control group. Although none of the children receiving the vaccine during the three-year study developed the blood poisoning or meningitis caused by the seven pneumococcus strains affected by the vaccine, 22 cases were reported among those children receiving the placebo (Wall Street Journal, 9/28). Henry Shinefield, co-director for the Kaiser study, said, "We are almost afraid to stand up and say a vaccine is 100% effective, because you know there's going to be a breakthrough case at some point." He noted that present data point to a 100% efficacy rate. Cynthia Whitney, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, praised the vaccine for its preventive measures and its potential to "slow the emergence of drug-resistant strains by reducing antibiotic[s]" typically used to treat the illnesses. She predicted, "This could have a major impact on public health because the disease is so common" (Weiss, Washington Post, 9/26).