U.K. pols press PM Cameron on Bexsero coverage delay

Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

It's been nearly 8 months since the U.K.'s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided to add Novartis' ($NVS) meningitis B vaccine, Bexsero, to its childhood vaccination schedule, covering it for all babies. But ongoing price negotiations between the government and the Swiss pharma have so far kept it out of the public's reach, and now members of Parliament are asking where it is.

Last week, Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown--just one of 150 MPs who have backed giving the vaccine free on the National Health Service, the Gloucester Citizen reports--pressed Prime Minister David Cameron for some answers on the vaccine. Left unvaccinated, 30 U.K. babies per year die of the disease, he noted, with 300 "severely maimed."

While Cameron said he was "certainly keen to help" if he could, "there are issues," he noted, as quoted by the Daily Mail. The U.K. is negotiating with Novartis "to see if we can find a cost-effective way of doing this," he said.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron

But so far, the U.K. hasn't found one. As a Department of Health spokesman told the Mail, "proper procurement rules" have to be followed. Translation: Novartis needs to sink the price before the U.K. picks it up.

Currently, Bexsero comes at a list price of £75 ($118) a jab, meaning it would cost the government £225 ($354) to give each child three doses--and £150 million ($236 million) for the program annually, the Daily Mail notes. But according to a model published recently in medical journal The BMJ, the shot could only be cost-effective for the country assuming a "low vaccine price range"--somewhere between £3 and £22 ($5 and $37).

Novartis hasn't shown any indication that it's willing to come down that low on Bexsero, a product it promised would turn its struggling vaccines business around before shipping most of the unit off in a deal with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). In September, Novartis Vaccines' medical director, John Porter, called the U.K. vaccination assessment system "flawed" and said it "significantly undervalues" the true public health benefits of vaccines and "underestimates the potentially devastating impact of the diseases they prevent."

But in the meantime, the Basel-based drugmaker is missing out on the chance to capitalize on EU market share. And in the U.S., where many assumed it would have a significant lead on a Pfizer ($PFE) competitor, it recently got shown up: After Pfizer put up a come-from-behind FDA submission on the same day as Novartis', the agency approved its vaccine, Trumenba, ahead of Bexsero.

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