India's Biological E pentavalent vaccine takes on GSK, J&J

The rise of vaccine manufacturers in emerging markets, particularly India, has helped depress the cost of immunization in recent years. Indian suppliers have rolled out vaccines at significant discounts and Western manufacturers have followed suit, slashing prices in poorer countries.

Vaccine foundation the GAVI Alliance has benefited from the trend. In its latest deal GAVI signed up Indian manufacturer Biological E to supply pentavalent vaccines for $1.19 a dose. In 2012, the weighted average price GAVI paid for pentavalent shots was $2.17, meaning the deal could save it $150 million over the next four years, Reuters reports. The extra cash could fund the purchase of 126 million additional doses of pentavalent vaccine. In 2010, UNICEF bought 97 million doses.

By supplying the combined vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae B, Biological E has stepped into Big Pharma territory. GAVI sources the pentavalent vaccine from Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Crucell, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and LG Life Sciences. In the past the entry--or proposed entry--of a low-cost Indian vaccine supplier has coincided with a drop in Big Pharma prices. After India-based Bharat Biotech said its rotavirus vaccine would go on sale at $1 a shot, GAVI renegotiated its deals with GlaxoSmithKline and Merck ($MRK) to cut prices by two-thirds.

The increasingly competitive vaccine supply landscape has helped with costs, but cheap is not always best. Back in 2011, GAVI was sourcing pentavalent vaccines for $1.75 a shot and the talk was of prices being pushed lower. Later that year, though, the World Health Organization dropped a low-cost pentavalent vaccine supplier, Panacea Biotec, from its list of prequalified producers. The action came after a routine audit found deficiencies in quality systems at the manufacturing plant in northern India. Bharat Biotech has also faced regulatory problems, although development of its rotavirus vaccine was unaffected by the quality concerns.

- here's the Reuters article