Putting The Ex In Imports: Manufacturing Meds In South Africa

Putting The Ex In Imports: Manufacturing Meds In South Africa

The South African government is partnering with U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in a five-year transfer of technology and skills that will allow SA to stop importing an expensive pneumonia vaccine for infants and start manufacturing it at home, Reuters reports.

Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death among children worldwide, accounting for 15 percent of all deaths in children under the age of 5, according to the World Health Organisation. It’s an acute respiratory infection caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses that fills the lungs. It killed 935,000 children under age 5 in 2013, according to Reuters.

Vaccine prices have skyrocketed in the last decade. The South African government pays 184.90 rand ($13.36 US) for a single dose of imported Prevenar 13. Each infant needs three doses of the pneumonia vaccine.

Pneumonia vaccine accounts for 40 percent of South Africa’s vaccines budget, Reuters reports.

Pfizer has partnered with South Africa’s Biovac Institute to produce the pneumonia vaccine for infants, a cabinet minister said Tuesday.

Pfizer, whose top sellers include Lyrica for pain and rheumatoid arthritis treatment Enbrel, ranks No. 3 among about 2,000 publicly traded pharmaceutical and biotech companies around the world, Bloomberg reported.

The South African government owns a 47.5-percent stake in Biovac, according to Reuters. A five-year partnership, announced at Biovac’s Cape Town manufacturing facility, will include transferring upgraded technology and skills to produce Prevenar 13 vaccine sustainably, said Naledi Pandor, Science and Technology Minister.

Biovac already supplies over 25 million doses of vaccines a year that protect against a range of diseases including tuberculosis and polio.

“There is more that we can do to cut the costs of the (pneumonia) vaccine, and that is to manufacture the vaccine here in Cape Town,” Pandor said at a news conference, Reuters reported.

The goal is that South Africa will no longer be importing the vaccine by 2020, but will instead be producing it, Pandor said. “There won’t be an immediate saving because we will still continue to import … but in the final analysis, when we get to 2020 we shouldn’t be purchasing the vaccine in dollars but as manufactured in South Africa.”