U.K. and Novartis begin price negotiations on Bexsero

Let the negotiations begin. After pushing back on the price of Novartis' ($NVS) meningitis B vaccine, Bexsero, the U.K. is coming to the table with the Swiss drugmaker to see if it can haggle down the cost to its health system.

As Deputy Chief Medical Officer John Watson said in a notice from the U.K. government, officials have sent Novartis the documents necessary to begin talks. "We hope they will work constructively with us to ensure a cost effective price is reached rapidly," he said.

Earlier this year, Bexsero--the world's first vaccine for the deadly MenB--scored a recommendation from the country's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization--a reversal of an earlier decision to leave the shot off its national program.

But as health officials have emphasized, that nod was contingent on securing the right price--and the two sides differ on what that price should be. Right now, the list price for Bexsero stands at £300 ($504) for a four-dose course--a price U.K. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in an April letter to Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez that he "cannot justify."

Some unhappy critics have pointed fingers at the government, chastising it for the delay in protecting citizens against the quick-killing serogroup. But Watson says the National Health Service (NHS) has a process to uphold.

"I recognize that families want to see the vaccination program introduced quickly, but NHS funds must be used as effectively as possible and it is right we follow due process to make sure this happens," he said in the notice.

Whatever agreement the two sides come to, however, will ultimately affect U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) more than it will Novartis. After pinning hopes for its struggling vaccines business on Bexsero for years, the Basel-based drugmaker this April agreed to sell the unit to GlaxoSmithKline for $7.1 billion as part of a larger asset swap.

- read the U.K.'s notice

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