LONDON, June 16 (Reuters) - Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA) is to donate 60 million doses of its H5N1 bird flu vaccine to the World Health Organisation, the French drugmaker said on Monday.
The donation over the next three years will help the U.N. health body build a global vaccine stockpile that could be used in poor countries in the event of an outbreak of a human flu pandemic, which many experts fear may be triggered by bird flu.
The United States and some countries have already placed orders for national vaccine stockpiles but there have been concerns that the world’s poor could be left without protection.
As a result, the WHO has decided to set up a vaccine stockpile to distribute shots at short notice to poor countries.
Sanofi’s move follows a similar agreement by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) last year to donate 50 million doses of its bird flu vaccine to the WHO.
While H5N1 remains mainly a virus of birds, scientists say it is the most likely source of the next global flu pandemic in humans, since it may soon mutate into a form that is transmitted easily from person to person.
Sanofi Pasteur -- the vaccines arm of the French group -- is the world’s leading provider of conventional seasonal flu vaccine, supplying around 40 percent of the total market, according to the company’s own internal estimates. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Erica Billingham)