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India Grants US Drugmaker Pfizer Patent on Pneumonia Vaccine

It’s a big victory for the US drugmaker in a market that has the world’s largest number of pneumonia cases.

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It’s a big victory for the US drugmaker in a market that has the world’s largest number of pneumonia cases.
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India has granted Pfizer Inc a patent for its powerful pneumonia vaccine, Prevenar 13, in a blow to some health groups that said this would put the treatment out of reach of thousands in poorer nations.

The decision by India’s patent office bars other companies from making cheaper copies of the vaccine and allows Pfizer to exclusively sell it in India until 2026.

It's a big victory for the US drugmaker in a market that has the world’s largest number of pneumonia cases, a lung disease that kills nearly a million children a year globally.

The decision also has international implications, as several poorer nations rely on India's robust drugs industry to supply cheaper copies of medicines and vaccines.

It also comes at a time of ongoing US pressure on India to tighten its patent laws. The United States Trade Representative expressed concerns about India's intellectual property laws in a report in June, and listed it among countries whose IP laws unfairly favour local companies.

Pfizer’s vaccine protects children and adults from 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria, and a full vaccination course costs about $170 on India’s private market.

India started giving out the vaccine for free under its national immunisation programme earlier this year, but the rollout like that of most vaccines in the programme, is in phases, so only about 2.1 million of the 25 million eligible people in the country will get it this year.

The patent grant means Indian companies won’t be able to make the vaccine for domestic use, or exports.

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At least one Indian company, Panacea Biotec Ltd, is developing a cheaper form of the vaccine, and had also filed an opposition to Pfizer’s patent request in 2016.

A source familiar with the matter said Panacea is considering filing a post-grant opposition.

Following criticism over the high price of Prevenar 13, Pfizer reduced the vaccine price to non-governmental organisations last November, seeking to protect vulnerable people from illness in humanitarian crises.

Pfizer welcomed the granting of the patent, saying Prevenar 13 took two-and-a-half years to produce, and was launched in India in 2010.

(This article has been shortened for length.)

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