The pharmaceutical giant GSK recently announced that Europe’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has issued a favorable opinion for the company’s Synflorix pneumococcal vaccine. Such approval is a critical first step in allowing GSK to deliver the four-dose vial pneumonia vaccine through Gavi, the international vaccine alliance, across developing countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that pneumonia causes 16 percent of child deaths worldwide, or over 920,000 children in 2015. Simple, low-technology steps can be effective in preventing deaths of pneumonia, but those options are not necessarily available, or there is a lack of awareness, in such countries. Despite improvements in public health and the delivery of more effective vaccines, pneumonia is still the leading killer of children across the world.
But GSK says this version of Synflorix can help address the challenges of delivering such vaccines, and can counter the lack of adequate storage and refrigeration often prevents the distribution of these supplies. To that end, GSK says it will make at least 720 million doses of Synflorix available by the mid-2020s in order to prevent pneumonia from causing the deaths of children in poorer countries.
GSK claims it is one of the first pharmaceutical companies to work with Gavi, and its doses of Synflorix across the globe have helped inoculate at least 100 million children across the globe. A no-refrigeration vaccine will make it more seamless for public health and medical professionals to distribute and use, as this new formula can be effective up to 28 days after opening – compared to six hours for a two-dose vial.
This new development will certainly help GSK develop an even closer relationship with the non-profits and humanitarian aid agencies that have tasked themselves with scaling up vaccination programs in emerging economies. In spring 2016, NGOs including Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had complained that the price of Synflorix was too high despite what the company said had been aggressive measures to reduce the cost of the vaccine. By September, MSF had welcomed GSK’s decision to lower the price of the vaccine for children who were either refugees or were in the midst of other humanitarian crises. According to Forbes, that price had plunged to just over $3 a dose; MSF had said the price per dose had been as high as $65 when distributed to refugee camps in Greece.
GSK has also had been in the middle of tensions between world governments and large pharmaceutical companies over access to medicines, particularly over the right to license and manufacture them at a discounted rate so they would be affordable for their citizens. Last year GSK stood out amongst its peers by announcing the company would work with governments and find ways to allow them to replicate more of its drugs.
The stand GSK is now taking on its critical pneumonia vaccine will only help build trust between the company and more citizens worldwide. Depending on the pace at which the WHO and local regulators approve this new version of Synflorix, the company says it could be available for distribution as early as next year.
Image credit: Pan American Health Organization/Flickr