Once again, biopharma companies offered hefty discounts to secure national reimbursement in China in the hopes that wider coverage in a fast-growing pharmaceutical market can offset price concessions. This time around, some companies are walking away with more deals than others.
In one of the largest drug price negotiations in China in recent years, 111 innovative drugs scored spots on the country’s National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) for the first time after offering an average of 60.1% discount, China’s National Healthcare Security Administration said (Chinese) Wednesday.
AbbVie’s inflammatory disease drug Rinvoq, Bristol Myers Squibb’s anemia therapy Reblozyl, multiple sclerosis meds from Biogen and Novartis, Roche’s oral spinal muscular atrophy treatment Evrysdi and Takeda’s next-generation hereditary angioedema treatment Takhzyro are among those 111 new entrants. But some other closely watched products, including Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral Paxlovid, walked away without a deal with the Chinese government.
Before the release of the full list, China’s medical expenditure watchdog already announced (Chinese) on Jan. 8 that Paxlovid didn’t get into the national healthcare insurance scheme because Pfizer’s price was too high. The med currently enjoys temporary nationwide coverage, which will expire with March.
The Pfizer antiviral has been in high demand since China relaxed its anti-COVID measures. Pfizer previously lowered the price to 1,890 Chinese yuan ($280) per box—which contains five days of treatment—from 2,300 yuan. But because of limited supply, Chinese people have reportedly been obtaining the drug—and purported generics—from the black market at prices as high as 50,000 yuan.
The fact that some patients are willing to pay high prices for Paxlovid suggests that Pfizer likely won’t be shaken by losing out on national coverage. During the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference last week, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., said its local contractor Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical is expected to start making Paxlovid locally in China in the first half of this year.
Adding Huahai’s capacity could potentially ease Paxlvoid supply constraints. Market watchers will have a better idea of the size of China’s private pay COVID market by then.