UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has bought the outstanding interest in a Chinese joint venture focusing on the development of flu vaccines, giving it a stronger foothold in this emerging market.

The drugmaker said it is shelling out £24 million to acquire the 51% stake owned by Shenzhen Neptunus Interlong Bio-Technique in the company, which is called Shenzhen GSK-Neptunus Biologicals, or GSKNB.

The GSKNB JV was set up in 2009, at which point GSK held a 40% stake in the project, to develop and manufacture seasonal and pandemic flue vaccines for China, Hong Kong and Macau.

GSK upped its holding in the JV to 49% in August last year, and says the decision to take the remaining interest under its wing reflects its intention to further expand its vaccines presence in China through the establishment of local vaccine manufacturing capability.

“The decision to acquire the remaining equity interest in GSKNB reflects the importance GSK places in expanding our product offering in China and making new vaccines available to improve public health in this fast growing emerging market," explained Jean Stephenne, Chairman and President GSK Biologicals.

China is the world’s third-largest vaccine market - but still significantly underdeveloped - with annual sales of $1 billion and double-digit annual growth, and the move is "likely to be a significant commercial opportunity for GSK going forward," commented Matrix analyst Navid Malik.