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Global Health

Pfizer, ViiV launch drug programs for low-income countries

Plans add to a stream of initiatives prompted by efforts to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines

by Rick Mullin
June 2, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 20


Pfizer and ViiV Healthcare have announced initiatives aimed at increasing access to drugs and vaccines in low- and medium-income countries. The moves follow a stream of programs that emerged last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A vial of ViiV's Apretude.
Credit: Business Wire
ViiV Healthcare plans to license its patents related to cabotegravir long-acting to increase access in low- and medium-income countries.

Pfizer says it plans to provide all of its patented medicines and vaccines available in the US or the European Union on a not-for-profit basis in 45 low-income countries. The project, which the company says will impact 1.2 billion people, was announced by CEO Albert Bourla at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, late last month.

The initiative will cover 27 low-income countries and 18 lower-to-middle-income countries that transitioned from low-income classification over the past decade. Healthcare officials from Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, and Uganda will advise Pfizer on methods to ensure that medicines reach populations in need.

Pfizer will provide 23 medicines and vaccines under the plan. The company says it will add new drugs and vaccines to the not-for-profit roster once they are launched.

Under the program, Pfizer will accelerate development of vaccine candidates for the prevention of Group B Streptococcus, a leading cause of stillbirth and newborn mortality in low-income countries, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Pfizer and the Gates Foundation are also studying the development of a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus.

ViiV, an HIV specialist born of a 2009 partnership between Pfizer and GSK, announced a commitment to licensing patents related to cabotegravir long-acting, a pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, to generic drug producers that serve low- and middle-income countries. ViiV will negotiate licensing terms with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). Viiv says it will supply the drug, which it sells as Apretude, at a not-for-profit price until a generic is available.

ViiV launched a similar licensing initiative with MPP last December for another of its HIV drugs, dolutegravir.

These moves follow several others over the past year intended to increase access to vaccines in Africa. Pfizer and its vaccine partner, BioNTech, for example, announced a deal last October with the Biovac Institute, a state-backed vaccine manufacturer in South Africa, in which Biovac will provide fill-and-finish services for vaccines that will be distributed within the African Union. The following month, Pfizer announced a plan to license its COVID-19 antiviral, Paxlovid, to MPP, which will make the drug available to generic-drug makers in low- and middle-income countries at a not-for-profit price.

Merck & Co. struck a similar deal with MPP late last year for its antiviral, molnupiravir. Meanwhile, Moderna announced plans to build a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine facility in Africa.

“Before the COVID-19 vaccine, it took around 10-20 years to bring new pharmaceuticals and medical technologies to low-to-middle countries,” Nagesh Borse, deputy chief health officer for Project Hope, an international relief agency, says in an email.

“While the access to the COVID-19 vaccine is still unequal, with the efforts of many global and local actors, the mRNA vaccine has reached the low-to-middle countries.” Borse says the Pfizer and ViiV initiatives are a “move in the right direction” in increasing access to drugs and vaccines in underserved regions of the world.


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