New York – Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is challenging Pfizer‘s attempt to patent its Prevenar 13 (PCV13) pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in India so that other manufacturers can produce more affordable versions of the pneumonia vaccine.
The move marked the first time a vaccine patent has been challenged in India by a medical organization and, if successful, would allow the availability of more affordable versions in developing countries and to humanitarian organizations, according to MSF. Pneumonia kills almost a million children each year.
The international humanitarian aid NGO said it decided to make the move “after years of fruitless negotiations” with Pfizer to lower the vaccine’s price for use in its projects. The group charged that Pfizer has priced PCV13 out of reach of many developing countries and humanitarian organizations.
It is now 68 times more expensive to vaccinate a child than in 2001, according to a 2015 MSF report, The Right Shot: Bringing down Barriers to Affordable and Adapted Vaccines.
“Our pre-grant opposition shows that the method Pfizer is trying to patent is too obvious to deserve a patent under Indian law, and is just a way to guarantee a market monopoly for Pfizer for many years to come,” Leena Menghaney, head of MSF’s Access Campaign in South Asia, said in a statement issued last week. Pre-grant opposition is a form of citizen review at the patent examination stage.
Pfizer India said Saturday that the company had not yet received a copy of the patent opposition, and that it was in talks with Indian health officials to try to assess local needs, according to an Associated Press report.
An equivalent patent to the one opposed in India has been revoked by the European Patent Office and is currently being challenged in South Korea, MSF said.
“The pneumonia vaccine is the world’s best-selling vaccine, and last year alone, Pfizer brought in more than $6 billion in sales just for this product,” Dr. Manica Balasegaram, executive director of MSF’s Access Campaign, said. “To make sure children everywhere can be protected from deadly pneumonia, other companies need to enter the market to supply this vaccine for a much lower price than what Pfizer charges.”
One vaccine producer in India has already announced that it could supply the pneumonia vaccine for $6 per child (for all three doses) to public health programs and humanitarian organizations, MSF said, adding it is almost half the current lowest global price of $10 per child, which is only available to a limited number of developing countries via donor funding through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
In January 2015 during a Gavi conference in Berlin, Pfizer announced a commitment aimed at ensuring that the world’s most resource-limited countries have access to the Prevenar 13 vaccine. Gavi, a global vaccine alliance created in 2000, brings together public and private sectors to create equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries.
In addition, 193 countries at the World Health Assembly passed a landmark resolution last year demanding more affordable vaccines and increased transparency around vaccine prices.
“Pneumonia kills a child every 35 seconds,” Balasegaram said. “As doctors who have watched far too many children die of pneumonia, we’re not going to back down until we know that all countries can afford this vaccine. We can’t wait any longer for all countries to be able to afford this vaccine.”
(Sources: Doctors Without Borders, Pfizer Inc., Gavi, The Associated Press)
Filed Under: Drug Discovery