Pfizer and Chinese Authorities Fail to Reach Deal on COVID Pill Paxlovid

Talks between Chinese regulators and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer regarding the potential inclusion of Paxlovid, an orally administered COVID-19 medication, in the country’s public health insurance scheme have broken down. The Chinese National Health Security Administration said on January 8 that the company’s quoted price for the pill was too high.

At 8:30 am on January 7, Qian Yun, the vice president of Pfizer China and head of market access, entered into negotiations and didn’t conclude until 1:20 p.m. The negotiation time for each drug stipulated by the Medical Insurance Bureau was half an hour. However, it is not clear whether these four hours were spent on Paxlovid negotiations. Pfizer has seven products participating in Chinese medical insurance negotiations.

China has recently been dealing with a severe uptick in COVID-19 cases, and ICUs at many medical institutions are in urgent need. The use of certain drugs to treat COVID-19 can reduce the incidence of severe symptoms. Because of this, Paxlovid is now highly sought after by the market.

In a diagnosis and treatment plan issued by the National Health and Health Commission on January 6, Paxlovid was included in the listed antiviral drugs. It is suitable for adult patients showing mild and moderate symptoms and a high risk of severe symptoms within five days of the disease’s onset.

The drug is favored by clinicians. Yicai reported that there are two main reasons. First, the clinical effect is acceptable. Second, the drug has detailed research data, which can clearly provide some medication guidelines.

In December, Paxlovid was priced by some Chinese scalpers at 50,000 yuan ($7,365) per box. Before the start of medical insurance negotiations, Paxlovid was temporarily included in the scope of medical insurance payments until March 31 in some places, with a price lowered from 2,300 yuan per box to 1,890 yuan per box. From April onwards, patients will need to pay the original price if they want to use the drug.

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Some sources familiar with oral medicine as a treatment for COVID-19 have made several major speculations about why Pfizer has not agreed to lower prices. First, the drug is in short supply. Second, Pfizer is unwilling to destroy its own global price system. Third, the drug has shown certain advantages in curative effect, and has become the first choice for treatment in COVID-19 at present. Even if prices are not reduced, it is expected that there will still be a considerable demand for the drug.

Price negotiations for COVID drugs are not likely to stop. On January 6, the day before medical insurance negotiations started, China’s National Health Security Administration issued a notice, proposing that the price approval process of COVID-19 drugs will be shortened.