GlaxoSmithKline is planning to invest 500 million euros or more in a French plant that will boost manufacturing capacity for new cervical cancer shot Cervarix as well as a number of other adult and paediatric vaccines.

GSK has been investing heavily in its vaccines business, buying up companies and technologies, including last year’s $1.7 billion purchase of Canadian flu vaccine specialist ID Biomedical.

It has also been investing in new plants on three continents, including the purchase of a manufacturing facility in the USA from Wyeth, the construction of a $300 million plant in Singapore, expansion of capacity in Germany for flu vaccine production and the creation of a new facility in Hungary to make antigens used in its paediatric vaccines.

Jean Stephenne, president of GSK’s vaccines unit GSK Biologicals, said: “GSK’s vaccines business is enjoying explosive growth.”

GSK is already one of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers, but believes there is significant growth potential in a market that is shaking off its image as a low-value, commodity sector. Earlier this year the company predicted that the global vaccine market could quadruple in size by 2015 to £17-£24 billion from its current level of around £5 billion. GSK’s own sales are expected to double by 2010 and triple by 2015, according to Stephenne.

Last year GSK booked £1.4 billion from its vaccines business, or around 7.5% of total group sales, with a 32% increase to £753 million in the first half of 2006.

The French facility, based in St-Amand-Les-Eaux, will allow GSK to increase production capacity in formulation, filling, freeze-drying and packaging, and is expected to be online in 2011.

In addition to Cervarix, the plant will make GSK’s improved seasonal flu vaccine, new meningitis vaccines and a paediatric vaccine designed to protect against Streptococcus pneumonia and non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae infections.