By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, March 29 (Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline has reached a deal with the British government to supply a new meningitis B vaccine, following a lengthy stand-off over price with the product's previous owner Novartis.
Health minister Jeremy Hunt announced the deal on Sunday, which he said would make Britain the first country in the world to have a nationwide vaccination programme for the potentially deadly childhood disease.
Government advisers said in 2014 that all children over two months old should be given the vaccine Bexsero, which was developed by Novartis. But talks stalled over price, leading to high-profile protests by campaigners demanding immediate access.
Britain's GSK earlier this month completed a deal to acquire the vaccine from Swiss-based Novartis, following a complex three-part asset swap worth more than $20 billion.
"We had a stand-off really for the best part of a year with the company that used to own this vaccine but since GSK have come on board they have reduced the price and that means we can now go ahead this year with rolling out the meningitis B vaccine," Hunt said.
Nikki Yates, general manager of GSK in Britain, said the drugmaker was "delighted" to have reached an agreement just three weeks after acquiring Bexsero. Although pricing details remain confidential, Yates said it offered fair value to the National Health Service and a reasonable return for GSK.
Bexsero is the only meningitis B vaccine licensed in Britain, although a rival product from Pfizer is waiting in the wings.
Chris Head, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said meningitis B had been at the top of his charity's agenda for decades and he welcomed a decision that would save both lives and money.
The long-term costs to the health service of a severe case of the disease can exceed 3 million pounds ($4.5 million), he said.
Meningitis B is the biggest single cause of meningitis in Britain and leads to death in 10 percent of all cases and to long-term after effects in a further 36 percent. The condition involves infection and inflammation of the lining of the brain.
($1 = 0.6723 pounds) (Editing by Susan Thomas)