Indian rotavirus vax set to undercut GSK and Merck

The rise of Indian vaccinemakers and emergence of GAVI as a buying power has moved pricing along a defined path. First Big Pharma firms offer discounts, as happened with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck ($MRK) last week. Then an Indian company arrives to disrupt the market.

Rotavirus vaccines are now on the cusp of this second phase. Having committed to offering its rotavirus vaccine--Rotavac--for $1 a dose in 2011, Indian vaccine manufacturer Bharat Biotech has now presented positive Phase III data. Bharat Biotech said Rotavac compared favorably to currently available rotavirus vaccines--like GSK's Rotarix and Merck's RotaTeq--and it is now trying to get it licensed in India. Rotavac would be the first vaccine developed in India to protect against rotavirus, which causes 100,000 lethal cases of diarrhea in the country each year.

The vast potential for a rotavirus vaccine to save lives prompted the World Health Organization to recommend its inclusion on national immunization programs. GSK and Merck subsequently agreed to drop the price GAVI pays for their rotavirus vaccines by two-thirds. This is 5 times more than Bharat Biotech is selling the vaccine for, though. The dramatic fall in price will help to protect many of the 500,000 children who die from rotavirus-related diarrhea globally each year.

Many people have worked toward this goal for the past 20 years. The U.S. National Institutes of Health was involved with the project as far back as the early 1990s, but ultimately it is an Indian success story. "This vaccine is perhaps the first totally new vaccine developed in India in many years, derived from an unusual Indian strain of rotavirus, researched by Indian investigators, manufactured by an Indian company and supported by investments from the Government of India," Dr. Roger Glass of the NIH said in a statement. 

- here's the press release
- read the NIH statement
- check out the global reaction