- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Chiron Corp. yesterday recalled and withdrew a common childhood vaccine sold in Italy and several other foreign countries, compounding the biotechnology company’s headaches as it recovers from production problems that caused a recent shortage of flu shots.

The Emeryville, Calif., company’s latest slip potentially affects about 5 million doses of Chiron’s measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, called Morupar.

The vaccine is used in Italy, Syria, Jordan and a variety of smaller countries that receive the drug through the United Nation’s Children’s Fund and Pan American Health Organization.

Chiron sells Morupar exclusively in overseas markets closer to the plants that make the vaccine, said company spokeswoman Alison Marquiss.

Other drug makers supply the United States with the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine, which is usually first administered when children are 12 to 15 months old.

Italy determined that five patients immunized with Morupar showed adverse reactions, including fever and swelling of the glands, commonly associated with the vaccine, Ms. Marquiss said.

The same pattern hasn’t been associated with MMR vaccines made by two other manufacturers, prompting the Italian Medicine Agency to order a withdrawal of Chiron’s product from the market to protect the public’s health.

Chiron said it provided Italy with about 450,000 doses of the MMR vaccine last year, with roughly 4.5 million other doses going to other countries.

Chiron described the recall and withdrawal as precautionary and emphasized there is no reason to believe patients already immunized with Morupar face any long-term health risks.

The company intends to consult with the World Health Organization to determine whether a limited supply of its existing MMR vaccine should be allowed back on the market.

Morupar accounted for just $10 million of Chiron’s 2005 revenue of $1.9 billion. To account for the setback, Chiron will reduce its previously reported earnings for last year’s final quarter by 3 cents per share to 68 cents per share.

Chiron’s woes with its flu vaccine have been more severe, reducing the company’s sales by more than $250 million during the past two years.

In 2004, Chiron triggered a health panic after contamination concerns at an English plant prevented the company from delivering 50 million flu shots — about half of the U.S. stockpile.

The flu shot problems persisted last year when Chiron fell well short of meeting its production goals.

The missteps undermined Chiron’s sales of its flu vaccine. In its last full year of normal production, Chiron sold $332 million of flu vaccine. In 2004, Chiron’s flu vaccine plunged to $153 million and rebounded to $225 million last year.

Chiron’s shares fell 19 cents to close at $45.51 yesterday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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