The company already develops and manufactures vaccines under the Intervet banner for its animal health business, and the new facility will focus primarily on producing veterinary vaccines. However, the company revealed that it will also serve as a platform for "exploring opportunities in the human vaccines field," underpinning the group's new wholly-owned vaccines business Nobilon, set up this summer.
After being considered something of a commodity product in human health for many years, vaccines have latterly been rediscovered. Indeed, growth in vaccine sales has been outstripping that of drugs by a factor of two to one in the last 20 years, driven by the development of combination paediatric vaccines and new indications in adults.
Throughout the 1990s, vaccine sales grew by an average of 14 percent a year while drug growth was in the high single-digit range, and the sector is tipped to reach a value of $10 billion in 2006 from $5.4 billion in 2001, according to a report compiled earlier this year by analysts at Merrill Lynch.
Meanwhile, the structure of the marketplace is changing. The two largest vaccines companies, GlaxoSmithKine and Aventis, each have around a quarter of the market for vaccines, and the top four (adding in Merck & Co and Wyeth) account for an 85 per cent share. But a number of smaller companies are carving out a niche, including Chiron (bolstered by its acquisition of the UK's Powderject), Berna Biotech and Acambis.
Akzo's Nobilon unit is not planning to have any human products on the market until 2009, but is working on the design of an improved influenza vaccine that should enter Phase I testing next year.
The Boxmeer facility contains a suite of clean rooms, each with its own air-handling unit, which makes it possible to work with several vaccines at the same time, according to Akzo. This is a unique feature that improves the flexibility and production output of the facility, it said.
Importantly, Nobilon will be able to draw on the expertise in biotechnological processes of Akzo's Diosynth business unit, which specialises in the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients.