'Vaccine fatigue' dampened CSL's first-half flu sales

CSL's chief executive says "vaccine fatigue" following the approval of new immunisations against shingles and the cold virus RSV has cut into its influenza vaccine business, but it still managed to outperform the market.

"Given the reduced rates of (influenza) immunisation, there has been ample supply, giving rise to pricing pressure as manufacturers look to clear stock across the industry," CSL chief executive Dr Paul McKenzie said.

Still, CSL saw sales of its Fluad influenza vaccine grow 14 per cent in the six months to December 31, thanks in part to a preferential recommendation from health authorities in the USA.

Overall CSL posted a half-year net profit of $1.9 billion, up 20 per cent from a year ago when accounting for currency fluctuations.

Revenue grew 11 per cent to $8.05 billion in the six months to December 31, driven by strong sales of CSL Behring's immunoglobulin products for patients with compromised immune systems.

Plasma collections remained strong and the cost of collections, including donor and labour, continued to trend down.

CSL Seqirus, its vaccine division, grew revenue two per cent to $1.8 billion, while CSL Vifor, its new iron deficiency business, reported revenue of $1 billion.

During a call with analysts, CSL head of research and development Dr Bill Mezzanotte also addressed Monday's announcement that the company would abandon a blood infusion aimed at preventing a second heart attack in patients who had recently had one.

CSL had spent nearly $1 billion developing the treatment, but a five-year clinical trial involving more than 18,000 patients in 49 countries found it did not deliver a measurable benefit.

"Obviously, we as an organisation are disappointed in the results, but not in the effort of our people," Dr Mezzanotte said.

Given the unmet need in these patients, the medical interest in therapies that use HDL cholesterol and the potential value of the therapy to CSL, "I firmly believe we did the right thing," he said.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Craig Wong-Pan said the results were generally in line with expectations, with CSL Behring outperforming and Seqirus and Vifor disappointing.

"We think the market will view this as an in-line result, although with a different segment composition than they expected," he wrote.

Late on Tuesday morning CSL shares were down 3.8 per cent to $279.29.

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