Pharmaceuticals | Glaxo, Pfizer blamed for high prices on vaccines in poor nations

China Glaxo InvestigationGlaxoSmithKline Plc and Pfizer Inc. are overcharging for vaccines in developing countries, Doctors Without Borders said, leaving some nations unable to afford shots that reduce child mortality.
Lack of transparency and scant competition has led to “wildly different” pricing by country that doesn’t always reflect ability to pay, the medical aid charity also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a report yesterday. The group called on Glaxo and Pfizer to cut the price of the pneumococcal vaccine, which guards against a disease that kills about 1 million children a year, to USD5 a shot.
“We have an irrational situation where some developing countries like Morocco and Tunisia are paying more for the pneumococcal vaccine than France does,” said Kate Elder, vaccines policy adviser for MSF’s Access Campaign. “We need to put public health before profit: life-saving vaccines for children shouldn’t be big business in poor countries.”
About four-fifths of Glaxo’s vaccines, including the pneumococcal medicine, are provided to developing countries at a “substantial discount” to prices in developed nations, Glaxo said in a statement yesterday. Many of the drugs require large upfront investment and the pneumococcal vaccine is “one of the most complex we’ve ever manufactured,” the London-based drugmaker said.
The report was timed in advance of a meeting in Berlin next week where donors will be asked to pledge more money to the Geneva-based GAVI Alliance, the biggest provider of money for vaccines sent to developing countries. Countries such as Angola will start losing donor support because their economies have improved somewhat, meaning their vaccine costs will skyrocket, according to MSF.
Glaxo offers its lowest prices to GAVI and Unicef, meaning that some vaccines are provided for as little as one-tenth of the charges in developed countries, the company said. The drugmaker has large research projects for maladies such as malaria and Ebola, and is trying to reduce vaccine production costs to pass savings on to poor nations, it said.
A spokesman for New York-based Pfizer in the U.K. wasn’t immediately available for comment.
MSF also said the vaccine industry is “secretive” and often unwilling to reveal prices, with drugmakers saying disclosure would weaken their negotiating position with governments and other purchasers, and perhaps drive up prices to poor countries.
Of the nine companies contacted by MSF, four shared their prices: Bio Farma, Biological E, Panacea and Serum Institute of India. Glaxo, Pfizer, Merck & Co. and Johnson & Johnson shared information on pricing strategy or vision, and Sanofi didn’t reply by MSF’s deadline.
Since 2000, GAVI has contributed to the immunization of 440 million children and the prevention of an estimated 6 million deaths, according to the organization, which is funded by governments and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Makiko Kitamura, Bloomberg

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