The spread of the avian flu virus can't be called a good thing. However, as the virus shows up in more and more countries, several drug companies are benefiting thanks to their innovative medicines. While their treatments aren't cures, the firms that are likely to reap a major bonanza from the bird flu are those that can develop vaccines. And in that race, there are two companies that seem to be likely winners.
The major winners now are companies that have developed antiviral drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors. These medications may help reduce the severity of avian flu. The most popular is Tamiflu, created by Gilead Sciences
The alternative to Tamiflu is Relenza, from Australia's Biota and GlaxoSmithKline
Notably, though, there have been scattered cases in which the avian flu has shown resistance to Tamiflu. These cases underline the need for a vaccine. Given that a vaccine would have to be produced in huge quantities, larger companies may have an advantage over smaller firms as suppliers. Sanofi-Aventis
Another contender, though, is GlaxoSmithKline. The company is already a major producer of the conventional influenza vaccine, and with its purchase of ID Biomedical
In the race for an avian flu vaccine, size matters. As a result, Sanofi and Glaxo may be the best positioned to reap the benefits from a vaccine.
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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.