- Pfizer on Wednesday pledged to supply its current and future brand-name drugs and vaccines to nearly four dozen lower-income countries on a not-for-profit basis, beginning with five sub-Saharan African nations.
- The accord will cover 23 medicines for infectious diseases, cancer, and rare and inflammatory diseases that each year kill 1 million people and cause chronic health conditions in another 500,000 people in these countries. With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Pfizer also will try to develop a vaccine for a bacterial infection that's a leading cause of stillbirth and infant mortality in developing nations.
- Pfizer's initiative follows pandemic-related agreements to supply its COVID-19 vaccine, through the U.S. government, to developing nations at cost, as well as to license rights to its antiviral pill Paxlovid to generic manufacturers in those countries. But the drugmaker was criticized for not doing more, and for the price it charged for its vaccine elsewhere. Emerging markets represented only about one-quarter of Pfizer's $81 billion in sales in 2021.
When the HIV epidemic hit African nations hard in the 1980s and 1990s, some of the first companies to develop HIV treatments, like Merck & Co. and GSK, came under international pressure to cut prices and waive patents as low-income nations struggled to treat their infected citizens.
The COVID-19 pandemic resurfaced similar issues, making clear that access to needed medicines remains unequal, despite a range of efforts to ensure supplies went to poorer countries. Wealthy nations and regions like the U.S. and Europe bought up most of the available supplies of treatments like Gilead's Veklury and vaccines like Pfizer and BioNTech's Comirnaty, leaving lower-income countries more vulnerable to the continued spread of disease, severe illness and death.
A year and a half after the first vaccine approvals, for example, only 14% of the people in the lowest-income countries have received at least one shot, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those low rates came despite billions of doses being manufactured and efforts by national authorities, global non-profits and the drugmakers themselves to supply through donations, discounted sales or technology out-licensing.
The new initiative, unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, aims to "provide all of Pfizer’s patented, high-quality medicines and vaccines available in the U.S. or the European Union on a not-for-profit basis," the company said. The effort will begin in Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda before expanding to the remaining countries, the company said.
Twenty-three drugs will initially be covered by the accord and as new ones are approved they will be added.
In the first five countries, Pfizer aims to learn how to better diagnose diseases, educate healthcare professionals and build supply chain infrastructure. The last point follows on the company's commitment to work with Project Last Mile, a global collaboration that takes lessons from the Coca-Cola supply chain to help deliver drugs and other medical supplies.
To ensure equitable access, Pfizer will work with the governments that enter into the accord to enable timely regulatory approval and procurement.