In pandemic flu preparation, a lot of focus is placed on protecting against the specific viral strain. Yet analysis of the 1918 pandemic shows secondary bacterial pneumonia directly caused many of the deaths. This brings Pfizer's ($PFE) Prevnar 13 into play, and the Big Pharma is talking up its role.
Pfizer made the case for its previous generation pneumococcal vaccine--Prevnar 7--as a saver of lives in a pandemic flu back in 2010. Now, a Pfizer-backed study published in BMC Infectious Diseases has calculated the extra benefits provided by Prevnar 13, which immunizes against 6 more strains. In an outbreak like the 2009 H1N1 pandemic--when 28% to 55% of autopsies found bacterial co-infections--the study predicts Prevnar 13 would have saved 3,700 more lives than its predecessor. The reduction in deaths, hospitalizations and long-term complications is predicted to generate savings of $1 billion.
The study--which was funded by Pfizer and conducted by consultants it paid--compared the cost savings favorably to the investment needed to immunize with Prevnar 13. As well as saving cash in a pandemic situation, Prevnar 13 is reported to have financial benefits in typical flu seasons. In the study of Prevnar 7, researchers calculated the vaccine could reduce pneumococcal-related costs by $1.6 billion. The latest study predicts the extra protection provided by Prevnar 13 could save a further $800 million. Prevnar 13 costs around $100 a shot--$27 more than Prevnar 7, the study claims--and, in the scenarios outlined in the paper, offers a worthwhile return on investment.
As in any prediction, the calculation is based on numerous assumptions, but it nonetheless gives Pfizer a platform from which to discuss the value provided by Prevnar 13. Pfizer also gained new safety data to support Prevnar 13 this week. U-T San Diego reports a Kaiser Permanente study published in Vaccine found Prevnar 13 is as safe as its predecessor. Kaiser Permanente came to the conclusion by analyzing the records of nearly 600,000 children who received Prevnar 13 over a two-year period. The team found no increased risk for any pre-specified conditions.