Pfizer could begin manufacturing Paxlovid in China through a local partner within three to four months following moves by Beijing to provide the clearances required to produce and supply the Covid-19 drug in the country.
Albert Bourla, Pfizer chief executive, said on Monday that a local contract manufacturer is gearing up to begin production as demand skyrockets for the oral antiviral treatment amid a supply crunch in China. Last year Pfizer signed a deal with Zhejiang Huahai to produce Paxlovid to meet the needs of Chinese patients.
“We were calculating that this will take us all the way to the end of the year to be able to have local manufacturing, but with the progress that I see and the effort for the Chinese authorities to clear the production, that will happen way earlier,” said Bourla at the JPMorgan healthcare conference in San Francisco.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes in three, four months,” he added.
Pfizer is increasing shipments of Paxlovid into China from its own manufacturing sites outside the country to tackle a severe shortage of the medication caused by a huge wave of Covid-19 cases since Beijing ended its zero-Covid policy last month.
Bourla said Pfizer had supplied only a few thousand courses of Paxlovid to China during 2022. That rose to millions of courses during December and the first week of January, he added.
Paxlovid, which is generally prescribed to treat mild to moderate Covid cases, is the only foreign Covid medication approved for use in China. But it remains in short supply and reportedly sells for huge sums on the black market.
Bourla said reports that Beijing is negotiating with Pfizer to allow local manufacturers to produce generic versions of the drug for distribution was not correct. He said negotiations between China’s health ministry and Pfizer aimed at agreeing a further reduction in the price paid by the state health insurer for Paxlovid from April 1 had not reached a conclusion.
Bourla said Beijing wanted a further reduction in the price, which is already lower than that paid by many medium-income countries under Pfizer’s three-tiered pricing programme.
“They are the second-highest economy in the world,” he said. “And I don’t think that they should pay less than El Salvador right, which is a poor country.”
Bourla said talks were continuing but that if no agreement was made then Pfizer would continue to sell Paxlovid into the private market in China after April 1.