Pfizer's Prevnar 13 set for another price hike in 2018 as U.S. price-per-dose climbs near $180

Pfizer will increase the price of Prevnar 13 to nearly $180 per dose in the U.S., according to a spokesperson.

Over the years, as Pfizer's Prevnar 13 has grown into the company's biggest product and the world's best-selling vaccine, its price tag has shot up considerably as well. Now, the superstar vaccine is set for another price hike in 2018.

According to CDC vaccine pricing data, the pneumococcal vaccine costs $169.11 per dose now in the private sector, up from $108.75 in 2010, when it was initially approved. Pfizer plans to charge about $179.30 per dose next year, according to a spokesperson. Kaiser Health News first reported on the planned price increase.

Children 6 weeks to 5 years of age get four doses of the vaccine at 2, 4, 6, and 12-15 months, while others who receive the vaccine get a single dose, according to Prevnar 13's FDA label. 

While drugmakers argue routine price hikes help fund ongoing R&D efforts to improve patient care, many analysts and critics contend that the practice raises insurance expenses and taxpayer spending on healthcare.

RELATED: Pfizer looks to rebuild abandoned vaccines biz in China with brand-new Prevenar 13 nod

In considering prices for each of its drugs and vaccines, Pfizer said it weighs a product's impact on disease and overall healthcare costs. In Prevnar 13's case, the company's manufacturing process takes 580 steps over 2.5 years for each dose, involving 1,700 employees. The company also conducts ongoing monitoring and research for its marketed meds and said it prices to ensure consistent supply.

"Thanks to comprehensive health authority guidelines, Prevnar 13 is one of the most widely available public health interventions, supported by broad insurance coverage and innovative federal programs that guarantee access to vulnerable populations," Pfizer spokesperson Sally Beatty told FiercePharma in an email. "Prevnar 13 is covered with no out-of-pocket cost for the majority of patients in commercial plans and Medicare."

The 2018 increase comes at a time when Prevnar 13 sales are actually slowing due to its early initial success. Last year, the vaccine franchise generated $5.71 billion in sales, down 8% from $6.24 billion in 2015. It's still the company's top product, though, and could gain life from a newer FDA indication in adults aged 18 to 49, and an approval in China, both granted last year. 

Meanwhile, the company is facing a Prevnar patent challenge in India, as international charity Médecins Sans Frontières is contesting a patent the company received there in August. The group says the patent doesn't meet legal standards and should be overturned, arguing further that the decision limits access to the lifesaving vaccine. Local vaccine makers can't make the shot until 2026 under the decision, according to MSF. 

In response to initial criticism on the patent decision, the company in August said it "remains committed towards further enhancing access of this vaccine in India, both in the market as well as through partnership with the government to expand introduction in the public program." A spokesperson added that Pfizer is "committed to creating an affordable and sustainable program to support the availability of Prevenar 13.” 

The Prevnar franchise accounts for the vast majority of Pfizer's vaccine sales, and the pharma giant is working to diversify its offerings in the business segment as Prevnar 13 undergoes its gradual sales decline. It made three vaccine acquisitions between 2014 and 2015, and Pfizer is working on vaccine candidates targeting S. aureus, C. diff and cancer. Further, the drugmaker is testing a maternal vaccination program against group B streptococcus infection.