Chiron posted a robust increase in fourth-quarter sales and profits yesterday, helped by the resumption of sales for its seasonal influenza vaccine, Fluvirin, and lower taxes.

Fluvirin sales rebounded after the vaccine’s suspension from marketing in October 2004 because of sterility problems at the firm’s UK production facility. The vaccine brought in $96 million for 2005 as a whole, compared to $2 million in the prior year.

Chiron eventually managed to produce 13 million doses of the vaccine which, as predicted, fell short of its earlier target of 18 million doses or more, and the group now expects to get production up to 40 million doses for the start of this year’s flu season.

The company posted net income of $144 million for the quarter, reversing a $23 million loss in the same period of 2004 when it was in the throes of the plant shutdown.

But Fluvirin’s return masked some other disappointments in Chiron’s product portfolio, notably the continued absence of revenues from Begrivac, another flu vaccine that was also suspended from sale as a result of manufacturing problems, which brought in $53 million in 2004.

The flu vaccines business as a whole rocketed 168% to $161 million in the quarter, but there were also declines of 32% in Chiron’s travel vaccines business to $23 million, and a 23% slump in meningococcal vaccines to $9 million. For the full-year, however, the latter two franchises grew 52% to $148 million and 56% to $43 million, respectively. Sales of Chiron’s paediatric vaccines fell 17% for the year, coming in at $166 million.

Chiron’s biopharmaceutical sales were up 8% for the quarter at $148 million, driven by 10% rise for multiple sclerosis drug Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) and a 13% hike for TOBI (inhaled tobramycin) for cystic fibrosis. The company’s diagnostics business put in a 6% gain to $82 million.

Chiron is due to be acquired by Swiss pharmaceutical major Novartis in mid-2006, although opposition to the $5.1 billion deal has been voiced by some of Chiron’s shareholders, who claim the offer undervalues the company.

Last week, CAM North America, which holds 7.6% of Chiron, said it would vote against the transaction. It joins ValueAct Capital, which holds around 5% of the stock and said last December it would oppose the deal.