The early success of a Unicef program to bring pneumococcal vaccines to poor countries has created a problem for the agency--demand is outstripping supply. To fix the problem, Unicef has negotiated new deals with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer ($PFE), securing more vaccines at lower costs.
Signing the new supply agreements gives Unicef access to an extra 50 million doses a year of GSK's Synflorix and Pfizer's Prevnar 13 from 2016. The 50 million doses are on top of vaccines GSK and Pfizer agreed to supply in deals they signed with Unicef in 2010 and 2011. From 2016 to 2020--when Unicef expects around 60 of its target countries to use pneumococcal vaccines--the agency will have an annual stockpile of 146 million shots. The additional shots will cost less than before, too, with Pfizer agreeing to a price of $3.30 per dose from 2014, compared to the $3.50 charged under the two previous deals.
Pfizer charges $130 a dose in the U.S., but some still feel the price Unicef pays is too high. In April, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) fingered pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines as the cause of a 2,700% increase in the cost of fully vaccinating a child. The price is unlikely to fall significantly until a manufacturer from the developing world enters the market, though. Unicef does not expect this to happen before 2016, which is when Serum Institute of India hopes to introduce its 10-valent pneumococcal vaccine. As well as driving down costs, a vaccine from Serum would allow Unicef to fully bridge the gap between supply and demand. Unicef projects demand could top 160 million in 2017, which would cause a shortfall of around 15 million doses.
GSK and Pfizer could also increase their supply commitments, as they did in 2011 and again this week. The ultimate decision at Pfizer now rests with the firm's top lawyer, Amy Schulman, who was put in charge of the vaccine business this week as part of a company-wide reshuffle, Bloomberg reports. In the new structure, Pfizer's assets are divided into three units, with vaccines joining cancer drugs and consumer products under Schulman's leadership. The reorganization is widely seen as a step toward the possible breakup of Pfizer.
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