India has granted Pfizer Inc a patent for its pneumonia vaccine Prevenar 13, leading to claims this could put the treatment out of reach of many people in poorer nations, Reuters reported.
The decision by India’s patent office bans other companies from making cheaper copies of Prevenar 13 and allows Pfizer to sell it exclusively in India until 2026.
Prevenar 13 protects children and adults from 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria, with a full vaccination course costing roughly $170 on India’s private market.
Dr Prince Mathew, Asia Regional Coordinator for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said: “It’s unfair and unacceptable that almost a million children die each year from pneumonia, even though a life-saving vaccine is available.
“Children everywhere have a right to be protected from pneumonia, but many governments can’t afford the prices set by Pfizer.
“We urgently need additional manufacturers to rapidly introduce competition with the aim of lowering vaccine prices.”
Pfizer welcomed the patent, saying Prevenar 13 took two-and-a-half years to produce.
“Pfizer remains committed towards further enhancing access of this vaccine in India, both in the market as well as through partnership with the Government to expand introduction in the public program,” said a Pfizer spokeswoman in India.
Reuters reported that Pfizer has made Prevenar 13 available at discounted prices under the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) — a public-private partnership to improve access to vaccines in poor countries.
Following criticism of the price of Prevenar 13, Pfizer reduced the vaccine price to non-governmental organisations last year.
At least one Indian company, Panacea Biotec Ltd, is developing a cheaper form of the vaccine, and had also filed an opposition to Pfizer’s patent request last year.
Panacea is considering filing a post-grant opposition, and MSF said it was reviewing its legal options.