Pfizer CEO rules out generic COVID drug Paxlovid for China

Jan. 9 (Reuters) – Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) It’s not in talks with Chinese authorities to license a generic version of its COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid for use there, CEO Albert Bourla said Monday, but it is in discussions about the price of the branded product.

Reuters reported on Friday that China is in talks with Pfizer Inc to secure a license allowing local drug companies to manufacture and distribute a generic version of the US company’s antiviral drug Paxlovid in China.

Referring to this report, Bourla, speaking at the JP Morgan healthcare conference in San Francisco, said, “We’re not in discussions. We already have an agreement for local manufacture of Paxlovid in China. So we have a local partner who will make Paxlovid for us and then we’ll sell it to the Chinese market.”

Pfizer has a licensing agreement with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) that allows 35 drug companies around the world to make cheap versions of Paxlovid and provide the treatment in 95 poor countries.

This license does not allow them to sell the generic drug baxlovid in China, where infections have spiked since December, leading to severe shortages of influenza and coronavirus medicines.

A box of Paxlovid, which is used for one course of treatment, has been selling for as much as 50,000 yuan ($7,313), according to local media reports and social media posts, against the original price of around 2,000 yuan.

Bourla said the company has shipped thousands of treatment courses in 2022 to China, and in the past two weeks, has increased that to the millions.

On Sunday, China’s Health Care Security Administration (NHSA) said the country would not include Paxlovid in an update to the list of drugs covered by basic medical insurance plans, as the US company quoted a high price for the COVID-19 drug.

The drug is currently covered by China’s comprehensive health insurance plan under temporary measures until the end of March.

Bourla said talks with China about future pricing of the treatment stalled after China demanded a lower price than Pfizer charges most lower-middle-income countries.

“They are the second largest economy in the world and I don’t think they should pay less than El Salvador,” Bourla said.

The failure of talks to include Pfizer in the list of drugs covered by basic state health insurance sparked heated discussions on Chinese social media on Monday.

Some Chinese media outlets reported that Pfizer lowered the price of Paxlovid to 600 yuan in negotiations, sparking a wave of criticism and questions on social media as to why Chinese regulators would not accept that price.

A separate report by financial magazine Caixin on Monday cited unnamed sources as saying that Pfizer has not significantly reduced its price beyond the 1,890 yuan it currently charges Chinese hospitals.

Pfizer declined to comment on Chinese media reports about the price it quoted during the negotiations. The NHSA did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the negotiations.

Chinese state media Global Times accused Pfizer of trying to profit from China’s Covid battle in an opinion piece on Monday.

It is no secret, she said, that the US capitalist forces have already amassed great wealth from the world by selling vaccines and medicines, and the US government has been coordinating all the time. There is no such thing as human right, but monopoly. .

“If they care about it (the epidemic in China), why doesn’t Pfizer give up its pursuit of profit and cooperate with China more sincerely?”

Delisting will not have an impact on the company’s business there until April, Bourla said, and the company may end up selling only to the private market in China.

Pfizer signed a deal in August with Chinese drugmaker Zhejiang Huahai (600521.SS) To produce Paxlovid in mainland China only for patients there.

Bourla said production is trending up in China and progress has been made that could allow it to begin manufacturing in the first half of the year, ahead of its internal year-end estimates.

(Reporting by Michael Ehrman in New York, Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Sophie Yu in Beijing). Editing by Myung Kim, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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