Chiron begins review as vaccine wrangle persists

Biotech company Chiron is reviewing its UK public affairs and PR accounts as it deals with the fallout from the suspension of its flu vaccine facility in Liverpool.

The California-based firm was mired in controversy earlier this month when the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency suspended its Liverpool plant manufacturing licence until January because of concerns about bacterial contamination in the vaccines. Chiron had been expected to supply half the US’s flu jabs , 48 million doses, with its Fluvirin vaccine.

It also produces 2.4 million doses of Fluvirin for use in Britain, one fifth of the total vaccine supply, although the Department of Health said there would be no vaccine shortage.

Several firms are expected to pitch for the public affairs business in November. The incumbent is Lexington Communications.

Chiron UK & Ireland policy and corporate affairs manager Clara Bentham, who is overseeing the review, said: ‘As an industry we are doing a lot of work on preparedness for an influenza epidemic’. She said the PA brief included ‘profile raising’ and ‘monitoring intelligence’ and that the decision to review predated the Fluvirin situation.

Bentham was this week seeing proposals for the PR contract, which has no incumbent retained agency. ‘Whichever agencies we appoint, we will want one communications approach so that PR and public affairs work together,’ she said.

Chiron acquired the Liverpool plant at the centre of the controversy last year as part of its takeover of PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, which retained Lexington for public affairs support.

Fluvirin accounted for about 12 per cent of Chiron’s £993m sales last year.

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