Meningitis vaccine price set to fall with entry of more players

Meningitis vaccine price set to fall with entry of more players

Mumbai: Meningitis vaccine prices are all set to crash by up to three-fourths in India with two local manufacturers entering a Rs400 crore market until now dominated by foreign-owned brands.

Three multinational companies—GlaxoSmithKline India Ltd, Sanofi-Aventis India Ltd and Wyeth Ltd—currently sell this vaccine, considered essential for children under two years, in the country at prices ranging from Rs800 to Rs1,200 a dose.

While Pune’s Serum Institute of India Ltd last month launched its indigenously developed meningitis vaccine ‘SII Hibpro’ at Rs375 a dose, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd announced the launch of its vaccine ‘BioHib’ at almost the same price on Monday.

Another Hyderabad biotechnology company Shantha Biotechnics Ltd has also received approval for manufacturing and marketing the vaccine, which is slated to hit the market soon. Panacea Biotech Ltd, a New Delhi drugs firm, has also been licensed to import the vaccine in bulk quantities for local sales.

Meningitis, commonly called as brain fever, caused by haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) bacterium, is a serious disease that can often prove fatal in young children. The bacterium can also cause severe pneumonia. Up to three million cases of meningitis-related illnesses and nearly 400,000 deaths are reported each year in children under five worldwide.

Krishna Ella, managing director, Bharat Biotech, said that his company “developed this vaccine with fully indigenous technology for manufacturing, and the company can offer the vaccine even at a lower price depending on the volume if the government includes the same for national immunisation programme".

Lack of access to medical facilities is the root cause of the high mortality rate with children affected with the Hib bacteria in the developing world and this presents a compelling case for mass-scale vaccinations. “This invasive disease can be treated with antibiotics, but lack of access to adequate medical facilities and increasing levels of antibiotic resistance lead to a high mortality rate," said Mumbai paediatrician S.S. Das. The number of infected children in developing countries is several times those in industrialized countries.

About a fifth of children in developing countries with Hib meningitis will die (rising to an even higher percentage in Africa and Asia), and up to 35% of children suffering from the disease will go on to develop life-long disabilities such as mental retardation or hearing loss, Bharat Biotech said in a statement.

Leading brands of Hib vaccines currently available in the Rs400 crore market are Hiberex of GSK India, Acthib of the French drug maker Aventis, and Hibtiter of the US multinational Wyeth. All these vaccines are currently imported into India.

GlaxoSmithKline India admitted competition will increase with the entry of Indian drug firms into the market. But, said a company official who didn’t want to be quoted, “Though the company has differential pricing in the developing countries, the prices will not go down below a certain level due to technical reasons."

In a similar situation in India’s Hepatitis B vaccine market, half a dozen local manufacturers who entered the market with indigenously made versions sent prices crashing by 90%, increasing the usage of the vaccine in the country.