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PHARMA INDUSTRY CUTS COST OF VACCINES FOR DEVELOPING WORLD

In the developed world it is all too easy to take medications and vaccines for granted, however, in many countries people die due to illnesses which here would be simple to treat due to the high cost of medication.

Across the globe, around seven million children die from infectious diseases such as measles and rotavirus each year, with 99 per cent of these living in developing nations where treatment is scarce. Such countries don't have the means to conduct research into drug development at the same rate as western countries, and as such are reliant on aid for a lot of much-needed medications.

The debate over how best to prevent this is long-running, however, major drug development companies have now stepped in to improve the situation by offering cheaper vaccines to developing countries.

Big name companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co have all made commitments to the Global Alliance for Vaccinations and Immunisations (GAVI Alliance), which aims to improve access to vaccines in the developing world, at significantly lower prices.

GSK has offered a 67 per cent reduction on its vaccine for rotavirus, a common form of diarrhoea which affects children and causes around 500,000 deaths annually, and has also committed to providing 125 million doses of the drug at a 95 per cent price reduction over the next five years.

Merck will also offer its own rotavirus vaccine for $3.50 a dose rather than $5 if 30 million doses are purchased.

Helen Evans, GAVI's interim chief executive, said: "These are promising offers that demonstrate industry commitment to work towards affordable and sustainable prices for life-saving vaccines in developing countries."

Aid agencies have also responded positively to the move, with Save the Children describing GSK's rotavirus offer as a "landmark move".

The charity's chief executive Justin Forsyth added that "GAVI now uses this to spur other vaccine producers to reduce prices and work to foster greater competition…to drive prices down even further and help even more children".

The pharma companies' price reduction pledges come hot on the heels of another promise from GSK aimed at improving health in poorer nations.

Last month, the company announced it had paired with three non-governmental organisations, AMREF in East and Southern Africa, CARE International in the Asia Pacific and Save the Children in West Africa, to help further its commitment to reinvesting 20 per cent of the profits it makes in the least developed countries back into projects which aim to improve the healthcare system in such nations.

While actions such as these will make a real difference to many people's lives, campaigners have also stressed the need for permanent changes to the way pharma companies price goods for the developing world. And this is exactly what GSK chief executive Andrew Witty has suggested.

In a recent interview with the Times, he discussed GSK's plans for a new tiered pricing structure, which will see drug prices set in line with what individual countries are able to pay.

He urged other companies to follow this example, insisting that the move was not a gimmick or a move to garner goodwill for the pharmaceutical industry.

Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, added that GSK was "blazing a trail" and urged all other pharma companies to look to it as an example.

The GAVI Alliance is sure to be watching closely to see if any do.