Tickers in this Article: AZN, NVS, SNY, GSK, BAX
If there's one thing that's certain about investing, it's that investors get bored easily - forgetting about long-term agendas when the short-term chatter proves to be too distracting. Case in point? Swine flu. By April of this year, it - and the need for a vaccine - was all we would hear about for weeks. Now that we actually have revenue-bearing vaccines though, H1N1 is barely a faded memory. It's not a mistake you want to make, however, considering the current quarter is the one where swine flu vaccine sales will actually hit the income statements. And, the numbers should be more than a little enhanced.

Since everyone seems to have forgotten about it, a better understanding of the dollars involved may translates into a buying opportunity that bears fruit once Q4 biopharmaceutical number start to come out.

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Biopharmas in the Hunt
It's still a work-in-progress, but we do know a few firm factoids about who - so far - can sell swine flu vaccines.

AstraZeneca PLC (NYSE:AZN) could be considered the winner of the swine flu vaccine race, in that the company was the only one to sell a treatment during Q3. The bulk of the sales will still be attributed to Q4, however.

That said, the company should be lauded at least a little. It wasn't luck or a head-start that got AstraZeneca's FluMist nasal spray version of the vaccine to the finish line first, but rather, better technology. Its subsidiary MedImmune Inc. overcame the problem of slow-growing virus strains by using a weakened version of the live virus rather than building a vaccine around a dead virus supplied by the CDC.

AstraZeneca's isn't the only FDA-approved treatment though. Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS), Sanofi-Aventis SA (NYSE:SNY), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) and CSL Behring are also doing H1N1 business. Other companies may be able to offer a vaccine as well on an international basis, since the FDA's jurisdiction stops at the U.S. borders. Baxter International (NYSE:BAX), for instance, still hasn't won FDA-approval for its Celvapan vaccine, but it has been approved for use in other countries.

Though other players are still on the table, these biopharma are the bulk of the competition.

Early H1N1 Revenue Reads
As was said above, this is still a work in progress. The clues we've gleaned so far, however, have been encouraging to investors.

For instance, AstraZeneca reported that its Q3 sales of H1N1 vaccine totaled up to $152 million, but that was without the benefit of a full quarter's worth of revenue. To date, the swine flu treatment has driven at least $453 million worth of sales, most of which will be reported in the fourth quarter. It's not a game-changer for the company, which did $31 billion in sales during 2008. If the H1N1 sales pace is $300 million per quarter for a few quarters though, it's more than nickels and dimes.

And Here's the Thing
AstraZeneca's bump - despite being the first to the market - wasn't nearly as dramatic as some of the latter swine flu vaccine sales reports. GlaxoSmithKline's swine flu benefit is expected to be $1.64 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter, on top of its already-huge surge in sales of Relenza which can help treat swine flu despite not being an actual H1N1 vaccine. That's a much bigger relative chunk of change for GlaxoSmithKline, which pulled in sales of $35 billion in 2008. Baxter - a much smaller player in the grand scheme of things - expects to see a $30 million to $40 million revenue boost during Q4 thanks to swine flu vaccine sales. Baxter generated $12 billion is sales last year.

The point is pretty clear, and applies to all the players with approves treatments. Now that H1N1 vaccine sales are rolling, these companies are setting up nice growth. And to answer the next question, yes, there's some longevity to the trend.

As of the last count, the CDC said the U.S. has its hands on 73 million doses of a swine flu vaccine, versus the 250 million the U.S. government had originally ordered. The proportion seems to be about the same when extrapolated globally, where the total number of doses is closer to a billion. At up to $20 per dose, the numbers start to add up, even when there are several manufacturers.

The Bottom Line
Given the slow pace of production , strong - though never enormous - swine flu vaccine sales could spread out over a year or more. (Learn more about investing in pharmaceuticals, Measuring The Medicine Makers.)

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