Increasing competition, saturation of key sectors and a lack of innovative late-stage candidates looks like halting the strong growth enjoyed by the vaccines industry over the last decade.

That is the view of a new report from Datamonitor, which notes that the large players in the sector  - Merck & Co, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Novartis - have enjoyed a good run for the fast few years. Global vaccine sales reported by these five companies grew from $7.1 billion in 2004 to over $20 billion in 2009 at a compound annual growth rate of 23%.

Hedwig Kresse, lead healthcare analyst at Datamonitor, notes that vaccines were previously regarded as "a commercially unattractive commodity market, however, a combination of factors has led to their re-emergence as successful growth drivers". The report states that the launch "and rapid uptake of novel, high-price products", such as Pfizer/Wyeth’s pneumococcal conjugate vaccine Prevnar or Merck & Co’s Gardasil, which protects against four types of human papillomavirus, has led to "a renewed interest from pharmaceutical and biotech companies in the vaccines space". This has been boosted by the availability of novel vaccine technologies, significant amounts of funding, changes in vaccine injury compensation legislation and most recently the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic.

However, Datamonitor argues that as key growth drivers such as Prevnar or Gardasil reach maturity, "the rapid growth that followed their launch is showing signs of stagnation". Nevertheless, Ms Kresse believes opportunities still remain, saying that development of candidates for "novel, challenging indications can be facilitated by novel technologies, such as adjuvants, alternative production and delivery techniques and novel approaches in antigen design".
She adds that expansion of activities to the large populations of emerging and developing countries "is another promising strategy to maximise revenues", as "the high disease burden and increasing healthcare spending in these regions represents a significant commercial opportunity".