Pharma News: Swiss Pharma Giant Novartis Launches PR Initiative To Supply COVID-19 Meds To Low And Middle-Income Countries
: One of the world’s biggest pharma giant Novartis, in a PR move
publicly announced the launch an initiative to assist patients in low-income and lower-middle-income countries in getting access to affordable drugs for COVID-19.
The pharma company said that they are specifically making 15 drugs from its Sandoz division available that can be used to treat symptoms related to COVID-19. They are drugs for gastrointestinal illness, acute respiratory symptoms, pneumonia and septic shock.
The company plans to make the drugs available to government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other institutional customers in up to 79 countries at no profit. In addition, the initiative will allow the countries to pick therapies in the portfolio that they need. The primary eligibility requirement is that the countries are on the World Bank’s list of low-income and lower-middle-income (LIC; LMIC) countries.
Lutz Hegemann, CEO for Global Health at Novartis told Thailand Medical News, “Access to medicine can be a challenge for patients in low- and lower-middle-income countries and the situation has worsened during COVID-19. With our COVID-19 portfolio, we wish to help address the additional healthcare demands of the pandemic in the countries we are targeting.”
According to Novartis, the drugs included in the Novartis COVID-19 Response Portfolio are: Amoxicillin, Ceftriaxone, Clarithromycin, Colchicine, Dexamethasone, Dobutamine, Fluconazole, Heparin, Levofloxacin, Loperamide, Pantoprazole, Prednisone,Prednisolone, Salbutamol and Vancomycin.
Novartis indicates the portfolio is in addition to the Novartis Access portfolio, which are “on- and off-patent medicines against key non-communicable diseases,” by way of the local Novartis or Sandoz affiliate.
Novartis’ initiative caused the NGO Doctors Without Borders to call for more drug pricing transparency and for the biopharmaceutical industry to follow “no profiteering” initiatives for new COVID-19 therapies.
Lutz Hegemann told media that the company has not had supply chain problems for these drugs, but the focus was on ensuring that the vulnerable healthcare systems in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe didn’t become overwhelmed.
Lutz Hegemann added, “We shouldn’t underestimate the stress that COVID puts particularly on fragile health system. We are not targeting classical commercial distribution channels, but very direct channels.We plan to work with health authorities, faith-based organizations and NGOs to eliminate markups on drugs.”
However it should be noted that even heavily discounted drugs from Novartis or it subsidiary Sandoz are still about 4 to 20 times more expensive that generic versions made in India, Thailand, Mexico and Brazil.
Also for the most part, Novartis’s branded drugs aren’t commonly used to treat COVID-19, and its malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has had very mixed results in clinical trials for the disease. But Sandoz is the Swiss company’s generics division and has many drugs that are used to
treat symptoms of COVID-19 in patients in the hospital. They are typically steroids, antibiotics, an antifungal and lung medication. Most of them have been around for decades and are relatively inexpensive to manufacture.
A spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders said, “Novartis should publish the actual ‘at cost prices’ for these medicines, as well as any costs of R&D and costs of production for all of their medicines. Additionally, we hope that corporations like Novartis will follow similar ‘no profiteering’ initiatives for any new COVID-19 products.”
So far, Novartis has donated US$40 million in support of communities globally impacted by the pandemic. They are also involved in two cross-industry research programs, the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, coordinated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, and Mastercard, and a COVID-19 directed partnership organized by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).
Novartis is still supplying hydroxychloroquine for investigator-initiated clinical trials and when governments require it, as appropriate. It is also supporting clinical trials of several of its drugs for COVID-19. In addition, AveXis, its gene therapy unit, inked a manufacturing agreement with Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital to manufacture its novel genetic COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AAVCOVID.
Richard Saynor, CEO of Sandoz said, “This initiative builds on our earlier global commitment to keep prices stable for a basket of essential drugs used to treating COVID-19 patients. The COVID-19 Response Portfolio for low-income and lower-middle-income countries is designed to support governments in treating COVID-19 symptoms before they lead to complications in patients.”
Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are reporting huge profits in the last 6 months and the trend is expected to accelerate the next 6 to 10 years as the COVID-19 pandemic gets worse and also more long-term health complications form the SARS-CoV-2 emerges. As one pharma executive said on conditions of anonymity, “The COVID-19 pandemic is godsend for the pharma and biotech companies as we will be guaranteed phenomenal profits for the next decade or so. China and WHO should be thanked for this.”
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