China will not include Pfizer Inc’s Paxlovid in an update to its list of medicines covered by basic medical insurance schemes as the U.S. firm quoted a high price for the COVID-19 drug, China’s Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA) said Sunday.
The COVID-19 antiviral drug is currently covered by the country’s broad health care insurance scheme under temporary measures the regulator introduced in March last year as outbreaks rose.
But authorities held talks with Pfizer in recent days to decide whether to include it in the latest version of their list, which they update annually.
Inclusion on the list means a drug is accessible via state insurance schemes, which will boost volumes but comes with the condition that manufacturers lower prices. Past rounds have seen drugmakers cut prices by as much as 62% after negotiations with officials.
“We will continue to collaborate with the Chinese government and all relevant stakeholders to secure an adequate supply of Paxlovid in China. We remain committed to fulfilling the COVID-19 treatment needs of Chinese patients,” Pfizer said in a statement, without elaborating.
The NHSA said Paxlovid would continue to be eligible to be paid for by state medical insurance until the current planned end-date to the temporary measures of March 31.
While the talks on Paxlovid failed, they succeeded with two other COVID-19 treatment drugs — herbal medication Qingfei Paidu granules and Chinese drugmaker Genuine Biotech’s Azvudine — which will be included in the list’s update, the regulator said.
Three years into the pandemic, China began pivoting away from its signature “zero COVID” policy last month after historic protests of the economically-damaging curbs that had been championed by President Xi Jinping.
The sudden loosening of restrictions has fueled a giant wave of infections and prompted many to turn to underground channels to procure remedies such as Paxlovid, which a clinical trial has found to have reduced hospitalizations in high-risk patients by around 90%.
Boxes of Paxlovid are changing hands for as much as 50,000 yuan ($7,313.15), more than 20 times the original price of 2,300 yuan, according to local media reports and social media posts.
Beijing has been largely resistant to Western vaccines but has greenlighted foreign oral treatments Paxlovid and Merck’s Molnupiravir. It approved Paxlovid in February.
Reuters reported Saturday, citing sources, that China is in talks with Pfizer to secure a license that will allow domestic drugmakers to manufacture and distribute a generic version of Paxlovid.
Last month, China Meheco Group Co Ltd said Wednesday it signed an agreement with Pfizer to import and distribute Paxlovid in mainland China.
Pfizer also signed a deal in August for Chinese drugmaker Zhejiang Huahai to produce Paxlovid in mainland China solely for patients there.