October 2, 2023

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – China is in talks with Pfizer Inc to safe a licence that may permit home drugmakers to fabricate and distribute a generic model of the U.S. agency’s COVID-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid in China, three sources informed Reuters.

China’s medical merchandise regulator – the Nationwide Medical Merchandise Administration (NMPA) – has been main the talks with Pfizer since late final month, one of many sources with data of the matter mentioned.

Beijing is eager to finalise licensing deal phrases earlier than the Lunar New 12 months which begins on Jan. 22, the supply mentioned.

Chinese language hospitals are below intense stress after the federal government abruptly deserted its “zero-COVID” coverage final month, sending infections hovering. The surging wave of infections throughout the nation has overwhelmed hospitals, emptied pharmacies of medicines and brought about worldwide alarm.

Paxlovid, discovered to have diminished hospitalisations in high-risk sufferers by round 90% in a scientific trial, is in excessive demand with many Chinese language trying to get the drug overseas and have it shipped to China. Beijing has been largely immune to western vaccines and coverings. Oral therapy Paxlovid is likely one of the few international ones it has authorised.

In February final yr, China authorised Paxlovid, which was presupposed to be largely accessible by way of hospitals, to deal with high-risk sufferers in a number of provinces. Pfizer final month reached an settlement to export Paxlovid to China via a neighborhood firm to make the medication extra broadly accessible.

The NMPA and the State Council Info Workplace, which handles media queries for the federal government, didn’t reply to Reuters requests for remark.

A Pfizer spokesperson mentioned the corporate is actively collaborating with Chinese language authorities and all stakeholders to safe an satisfactory provide of Paxlovid in China.

All of the sources declined to be recognized as they aren’t authorised to talk to media.

The NMPA held a gathering with a number of Chinese language drugmakers in late December to debate preparations wanted to make a generic model of Paxlovid hoping it will have the ability to safe the licence within the close to future, two of the sources mentioned.

Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical, which signed a cope with Pfizer in August to supply Paxlovid just for use on the mainland, and CSPC Pharmaceutical Group, a developer of a possible mRNA COVID vaccine, are amongst those who attended the assembly, the primary supply mentioned.

The second supply mentioned the NMPA has additionally suggested companies to arrange to register with the regulator to supply the generic model of Paxlovid.


Potential candidates together with Huahai and CSPC have in current weeks been conducting “bioequivalence assessments”, that are required by Chinese language regulators earlier than generic medicine might be launched, the 2 sources and one other supply with direct data of the matter mentioned.

For a generic drug to be deemed equal to a branded drugs, such assessments are required to verify they work the identical approach within the physique.

Each Huahai and CSPC anticipate to submit the assessments outcomes to the NMPA later this month, considered one of them added.

Huahai and CSPC didn’t reply to a request for remark.

In March, 35 generic drugmakers all over the world together with 5 Chinese language companies agreed to make low cost variations of Paxlovid for 95 poorer international locations via a licensing association with the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). That licence doesn’t permit the businesses to promote generic Paxlovid in China.

The MPP licensing association is royalty free for Pfizer, whereas COVID-19 stays categorized as a “Public Well being Emergency of Worldwide Concern” by the World Well being Group (WHO).

Following the pandemic interval, gross sales to low-income international locations will stay royalty free, lower-middle-income international locations and upper-middle-income international locations will likely be topic to a 5% royalty for gross sales to the general public sector and a ten% royalty for gross sales to the personal sector, MPP mentioned at the moment.

As a consequence of extreme shortages of antivirals as 1.4 billion Chinese language battle infections, many have turned to underground channels to safe Paxlovid and different medicine, in response to home media. Scalpers cost as a lot as 50,000 yuan ($7,260) for a field of Paxlovid, greater than 20 instances its authentic value of two,300 yuan.

China has additionally pressed Pfizer to decrease the worth of Paxlovid as the federal government goals to incorporate the drug within the nationwide medical insurance coverage scheme which may cowl a part of the fee, the three sources mentioned.

($1 = 6.8875 Chinese language yuan)

(Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Kevin Huang in Beijing; Extra reporting by Michael Erman in New York; Modifying by Sumeet Chatterjee and Jacqueline Wong)