BioPharma, Policy

Covid-19 vaccine price controls would scare off developers, Fauci says at BIO

In a wide-ranging interview for BIO’s virtual annual meeting with the trade and lobbying group’s president, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci also said “good-faith” discussions are important to avoiding excessive pricing and ensuring affordability and access.

As multiple companies work to develop vaccines against the virus that causes Covid-19, it will be important for them to work with the federal government toward an understanding with regard to fair pricing, but outright price controls could risk scaring companies away, a doctor helping lead efforts to develop drugs and vaccines for the disease told biotech industry executives Tuesday.

Speaking in a fireside chat with Biotechnology Innovation Organization President Michelle McMurry-Heath during BIO’s virtual annual meeting, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci touched on a variety of topics, including questions around how potential vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 should be priced.

“I have a lot of experience over the years dealing with pharmaceutical companies in which we’re trying to develop an intervention,” Fauci said. “And the one thing that is clear is that if you try to force things on a company that has multiple different opportunities to do different things, they’ll walk away.”

A number of firms are in the process of developing vaccines against the virus. The two currently in the lead are Tianjin, China-based CanSino Biologics and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna, the latter of which plans to enter its vaccine into Phase III development this summer. Others include Sanofi and Pfizer, which is partnered with Germany biotech company BioNTech.

BIO has long opposed pricing controls on drugs. The U.S. stands apart from other industrialized nations in that it does not allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with drugmakers. On the one hand, that means the prices paid are well above those of the universal healthcare systems in other countries, though such prices are not necessarily reflected in what patients’ out-of-pocket costs. At the same time, the industry contends that this enables drugs to reach the U.S. market faster, pointing to the often months-long lag in their availability in places like Canada and Western Europe.

Still, Fauci pointed out that high prices are a problem in places that pandemics like Covid-19 tend to hit the hardest. As such, while fair pricing is desirable, it’s important for the government to work with companies, especially in cases where the federal government has assisted in the development of medicines, he said.

“Many of these outbreaks disproportionately affect regions of the world that cannot afford a very expensive intervention,” he said. “So that’s the reason why we’ve got to work with each other in good faith.”

Photo: Mandel Ngan, AFP, via Getty Images