Amid Bexsero negotiations, Novartis medical director slams U.K. vaccine assessment system

Novartis Vaccines Medical Director John Porter

Novartis ($NVS) and the U.K. haven't exactly been on the same page when it comes to the value of the former's meningitis B jab, Bexsero. After initially leaving it off its national immunization program, the British government is now negotiating with the Swiss pharma over price--a series of events that's led a top Novartis Vaccines employee to tab the U.K. vaccination assessment system "flawed."

The country's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) needs to reassess the way vaccines--and the benefits they bring society--are valued, according to John Porter, Novartis Vaccines' medical director. The current system "significantly undervalues" the true public health benefits of vaccines and "underestimates the potentially devastating impact of the diseases they prevent," he said in an interview with PharmaTimes.

Take the JCVI's evaluation of Bexsero. It "ignored the emotional toll of MenB on families and the lost societal contributions from those deceased and debilitated as a result of the disease," he told the publication. Plus, he points out, vaccination is a long-term public health strategy that often takes years to reach its full impact. So why should vaccines be evaluated under the same system as therapeutic drugs, whose effects are often immediate?

It's a question the JCVI is asking itself, too; the committee has already ordered a working group to examine its current methodologies, PT reports. But Novartis may also be feeling a little jilted over the U.K.'s cool reception for the world's first-ever MenB shot.

Initially, the country snubbed Bexsero, leaving it off its national vaccination schedule. And while it later flip-flopped on that decision, the U.K. government has been haggling with Novartis over the cost of the vaccine for a while now. Negotiations between the two parties officially began early last month after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt appealed in April to Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez for a price break.

But so far, just as Hunt says he can't justify purchasing Bexsero at a price above which it's demonstrably cost-effective, Novartis can't seem to justify dropping the list price, either. "As a manufacturer Novartis has a vested interest in ensuring that the system rewards innovation and recognizes the contribution vaccines make to public health," Porter told the Times.

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