Pfizer Inc is not in discussions with Chinese authorities to license a generic version of its COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid for use in China, according to the company’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, on Monday, January 9. However, the company is in discussions about the price of the branded product, he said.
Reuters reported on Friday that China was in negotiations with Pfizer to get a license allowing Chinese drugmakers to produce and market a generic version of the US company’s COVID-19 antiviral medicine Paxlovid in China.
Referring to this claim, Bourla stated at the San Francisco healthcare conference hosted by J.P. Morgan, “We are not in conversations. We have already reached an arrangement for the local production of Paxlovid in China. Therefore, a local partner will manufacture Paxlovid for us, and we will subsequently offer it on the Chinese market.”
A license deal between Pfizer and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), which is funded by the United Nations, enables 35 pharma manufacturers from across the world to produce inexpensive copies of Paxlovid and distribute it in 95 developing nations.
This authorization does not permit the sale of generic Paxlovid in China, where illnesses have spiked since December, resulting in a significant scarcity of flu and COVID-19 medications.
Local media reports and social media posts indicate that a box of Paxlovid, sufficient for a single course of treatment, is selling for as high as 50,000 yuan ($7,313), compared to its initial price of roughly 2,000 yuan.
In 2022, the firm exported thousands of treatment courses to China, but in the past few weeks, that number has climbed to millions.
China’s Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA) said on Sunday that the government will not include Paxlovid in an update to its list of drugs covered by basic medical insurance programs due to the high price stated for the COVID-19 drug by the U.S. company.
Until the end of March, the medicine is covered by China’s comprehensive healthcare insurance program under temporary conditions.
Bourla stated that discussions with China on future pricing for the therapy had broken down after China demanded a lower price than what Pfizer charges for the majority of low- and middle-income nations.
“They are the second largest economy in the world, therefore I do not believe they should pay less than El Salvador,” added Bourla.
The omission to include Pfizer in the list of medications covered by basic state health insurance sparked intense debate on Chinese social media on Monday.
Some Chinese media stated that Pfizer had cut the price of Paxlovid during discussions to 600 yuan, sparking a wave of outrage and queries on social media as to why Chinese authorities had not approved this pricing.
Separately, the Chinese financial magazine Caixin said on Monday, citing anonymous sources, that Pfizer has not considerably reduced the price it charges Chinese hospitals, which is presently 1,890 yuan.
Pfizer declined to comment on media claims from China on the price it proposed during talks. NHSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters about the negotiations.
In an editorial published on Monday, China’s state-run Global Times accused Pfizer of attempting to profit from China’s COVID-19 dispute.
The removal from the list will not affect the company’s operations in China until April, according to Bourla, and the company may end up selling exclusively to the private market in China.
In August, Pfizer secured an agreement with Zhejiang Huahai to develop Paxlovid in mainland China exclusively for Chinese patients.
Bourla stated that production is ramping up in China and that it may be able to begin manufacturing in the first part of the year, ahead of its year-end internal forecast.