Access to affordable pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) will become tougher after the Indian patent office granted a patent to US pharma major Pfizer for its PCV13 product, marketed as Prevnar13. The granting of this patent would block manufacturers in India, including Aurobindo Pharma, Panacea Biotech, BE and Serum Institute, from supplying pneumonia vaccine which protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. “This is a direct blow to the Indian manufacturers. While we do respect the patent laws, we are mulling legal options, including going to an IPR Tribunal for challenging the patent,” an official from the vaccine industry told FE. Manufacturers will have to find new routes to develop a non-infringing PCV vaccine which may delay the availability of competing products in the pipeline from Indian producers. Pfizer’s patent allows it to continue controlling the PCV market in India until 2026 and blocks developing country vaccine manufacturers from supplying a competing version of Pfizer’s PCV. Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) control a duopoly market for PCV, the world’s best-selling vaccine that has brought in nearly $40 billion in sales between 2009 and Q2 of 2017 for these two pharmaceutical corporations. Pfizer’s PCV13 earnings from 2009 to Q2 2017 is $35.2 billion and GSK’s PCV10 earnings in the same period is $4.5 billion.
Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian non-governmental organisation, focussing on projects in developing countries affected by endemic diseases, is also exploring to file a legal petition on the patent granted to Pfizer. “It’s unfair and unacceptable that almost a million children die each year from pneumonia, even though a life-saving vaccine is available,” Dr Prince Mathew, Asia Regional Coordinator, MSF said, adding that there is an urgent need for additional manufacturers to rapidly introduce competition with the aim of lowering vaccine prices.
According to Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head for MSF’s Access Campaign, “The method Pfizer is trying to patent is just a way to guarantee an extended market monopoly for the corporation for many years to come.” The Indian patent office’s decision also has broader implications, as it indicates a weakening of India’s strict patentability standards, which results in granting monopolies for minor and trivial improvements of existing medical products. Such ever-greening practices will hamper India’s role as ‘pharmacy of the developing world,’ supplying governments and procurers like MSF with affordable medicines and vaccines.