Novartis must drop vaccine price, says UK govt
Novartis will have to significantly lower the price of its meningococcal B vaccine if it wants a lucrative UK inoculation contract.
This is according to the department that negotiates price on the government’s behalf, and comes as a new meningococcal B (MenB) programme is set to be introduced in the UK.
Earlier this year, the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that Novartis’s MenB vaccine Bexsero should be offered to infants starting at two months of age.
It had originally said in 2013, however, that it would not back the world’s only vaccine for meningitis B because it deemed the drug too costly for the NHS.
The JCVI has now performed a U-turn but says that its positive recommendation is dependent on the vaccine being bought at a ‘cost-effective price’ that was ‘considerably below’ the list price.
Currently, according to the British National Formulary, the net price of a 0.5ml prefilled syringe of the vaccine costs the NHS £75.00 and usually requires two to three doses and a booster, depending on the patient’s age.
Since the JCVI’s recommendation, senior officials in the Department of Health and Public Health England (PHE) have been putting the necessary legal and technical arrangements in place so the negotiation process could begin this month.
The UK already has a vaccination programme for meningitis C, the more common form of the disease, and a conjugate vaccination for group C has been adopted in the UK’s routine immunisation since 1999.
Novartis also makes a vaccine for MenC and MenA called Menveo, whilst GlaxoSmithKline markets ACWY Vax.
Deputy chief medical officer at the JCVI, Professor John Watson, says: “MenB can have a devastating impact on children and families, which is why we are keen to work with Novartis to agree cost-effective terms for buying the vaccine as soon as possible so children are protected.
“I recognise that families want to see the vaccination programme introduced quickly, but NHS funds must be used as effectively as possible and it is right we follow due process to make sure this happens. Documents have been sent to Novartis so negotiations can begin, we hope they will work constructively with us to ensure a cost effective price is reached rapidly.”
Rare but potentially fatal, MenB is a bacterial infection that progresses rapidly and can lead to death or permanent disability within 24 hours of symptom onset.
Novartis’s vaccine is currently approved in 34 countries, including the European Union, Australia and Canada, and last month Novartis reported that Bexsero had been used to help protect against meningitis B within the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Québec, Canada.
It is also currently being assessed for approval in the US by the FDA.
In a twist, however, Novartis is selling its vaccines unit to London-based GSK in a multi-billion dollar swap that will also see the Swiss firm take control of its oncology products.
The vaccines unit saw revenue drop by 3% in the first half of the year, although its Menveo and Bexsero vaccines did produce small sales gains.
The two companies have not said how a new UK contract with Bexsero will be incorporated into the deal, which is set to go through by the end of the year.
The British government is known for its tough negotiation skills when it comes to vaccination programmes.
In 2011, the government performed a U-turn on its HPV vaccine programme by favouring Sanofi and MSD’s Gardasil over GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix.
Gardasil has now replaced Cervarix for the government’s human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme.
GSK’s drug won the previous contract in 2008, but the firm said it did not participate in the tender process as the Department of Health had ‘changed its mind’ on what it wanted from the programme.
Much of this came down to cost (as Sanofi/MSD is believed to have significantly dropped the cost from its list price), as well as the wider range of protection Gardasil gives.
Novartis may not be in competition for the tender, but it will still need to drop its price if it wants the contract, or face another rejection.
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