Pfizer to Sell Vaccines, Drugs at Low Prices to Poorer Countries

Pfizer Inc.

will sell nearly two dozen of its patent-protected drugs and vaccines at not-for-profit prices to some of the world’s poorest countries.

Under the program, Pfizer will begin shipping the medicines first to Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda before the end of this year, Chief Executive

Albert Bourla

said in an interview.

The arrangement means that some of the drugs that carry list prices of tens of thousands of dollars a year in the U.S. would be substantially less for the low-income countries to buy, according to Pfizer.

The company said Wednesday it will also work with governments to improve their health-system infrastructure and resolve regulatory and procurement obstacles that often delay the arrival of drugs.

All told, Pfizer plans to provide 23 drugs and vaccines for cancer, heart conditions and autoimmune diseases—which the company said is much of the patent-protected portfolio that it sells without a partner—to 45 low-income countries.

The initiative shouldn’t cost Pfizer much. Sales to developing countries in Africa and other emerging markets totaled about $8.4 billion in 2020, about one-fifth of Pfizer’s total sales during the year.

It could provide long-term benefits for the industry, helping build a potentially large new market for prescription drugs and vaccines. Companies can also earn goodwill with employees for philanthropic efforts.

Pfizer’s effort is among the more ambitious undertaken to date by a big Western pharmaceutical company seeking to expand access to cutting-edge medicines among people living in poorer countries.

The initiative aims to widen access to the products to more than one billion people, according to Pfizer. Future patent-protected products will also be sold to the countries at not-for-profit prices, the company said.

Western drugmakers, including Pfizer, have sometimes agreed to sell certain HIV and other medicines at lower prices than they charge in the U.S. and other wealthy nations, or arranged for other manufacturers to do so.

They have also sought to step up efforts to improve sales and distribution in low- and middle-income countries.

CEO Albert Bourla said Pfizer engineers and doctors will spend six to eight months abroad helping countries improve their healthcare systems.


Matthew Busch/Bloomberg News

Some industry and global-health officials have said obstacles beyond prices, such as limited cold-storage shipping capabilities and ill-equipped clinics, have helped restrict access to medicines in poorer countries.

Yet drug costs have also played a role, according to global public-health advocates, especially in the first several years after a medicine launches.

During the pandemic, Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers have faced criticism from global-health advocates and officials in developing countries seeking to boost their Covid-19 vaccine supplies.

Pfizer’s experiences distributing Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic helped spur its “Accord for a Healthier World” program, Dr. Bourla said.

The initiative expands on the company’s efforts, with partner

BioNTech SE,

to widen access to their Covid-19 vaccine by selling it to low- and middle-income countries at cost.

The company wouldn’t have included efforts to improve healthcare infrastructure, he said, if it hadn’t encountered countries with logistical problems distributing shots and hesitancy hurting uptake.

Among Pfizer’s plans, company engineers and doctors will spend six to eight months abroad helping countries improve their healthcare systems and infrastructure, Dr. Bourla said.

As part of the initiative, Pfizer plans to send breast-cancer drug Ibrance, lung-cancer therapy Lorbrena and Vyndamax, which treats a rare type of heart failure.

Albert Bourla tells WSJ CEO Council that Pfizer was effective in delivering vaccines to poorer countries at cost but it could’ve done better in education efforts by partnering with more NGOs. Photo: Ralph Alswang for The Wall Street Journal

“When you do have a medicine, you can also do the extra step and find which women have breast cancer,” he said.

Some of the medicines are already available in some of the countries, but most of the products have yet to be available, and Pfizer wants to help accelerate the access.

The program excludes Pfizer drugs that are part of joint ventures with other companies, as well as Pfizer’s hospital injectable treatments.

Pfizer announced the pricing program at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The company also said it has received additional funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for late-stage testing of an experimental vaccine for Group B Streptococcus, a leading cause of stillbirth and newborn mortality in low-income countries.

The foundation praised Pfizer’s pricing initiative and said it would work with companies, governments and other partners to “address other critically important barriers to access beyond affordability and promote health equity.”

Drugs can cost poor countries up to 20 to 30 times more than they cost wealthier ones, according to a study by the nonprofit Center for Global Development.

Essential drugs and vaccines typically take four to seven years longer to become available in low- and middle-income countries than in wealthier countries, according to a 2016 study published in PLOS ONE.

Once governments clear the drugs for use, their access is often limited by logistics and funding obstacles, studies have found.

The Omicron and BA.2 Variants

Write to Jared S. Hopkins at [email protected]

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