* GAVI chair expects more movement on prices from drugmakers
* Calls on donors to invest in “best buy in global health”
By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent
LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The pharmaceuticals industry must do more to cut prices of key vaccines for developing nations and close the gap with rich nations for access to them, the new head of an international vaccine-buying alliance said on Monday.
Dagfinn Hoybraten, chair of the GAVI Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation since January, said he believed drug companies would bow to pressure to cut prices for vaccines that can protect against some of the biggest killers of children in poor countries.
“We need to see vaccine prices come down further,” Hoybraten told Reuters in an interview. “We will work with the vaccine industry and ... our partners to produce vaccines at lower cost.”
GAVI buys and distributes vaccines for developing countries.
It faces a shortfall of some $3.9 billion over the next five years to continue providing life-saving five-in-one shots for children in poor countries and to roll out new vaccines for pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases, the two biggest killers of young children in the world.
The alliance has a pledging conference in London in June, at which Hoybraten hopes government and philanthropic donors will “step up to this enormous opportunity” which could help save nearly 4 million lives over five years.
For international donors, Hoybraten said the value for money offered by channelling development aid funds into vaccines was especially clear in a tough economic climate.
“Vaccines are really the best buy in global health at the moment ... and if you care at all about the lost lives, it’s hard to see a better opportunity to do something about it.”
But he said drug firms had to play their part. “I would be very disappointed if we don‘t, in coming months, see substantial contributions to closing the gap coming from (lower) prices.”
GAVI is starting vaccination campaigns against pneumococcal disease in several nations..
The rollout comes after drug firms Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline signed a 10-year deal to supply pneumococcal shots at a discounted price of $7 each for the first 20 percent, and $3.50 for the rest.
The deal was the first under an Advance Market Commitment (AMC) which guarantees a market for vaccines supplied to poor nations and sets a maximum price for drugmakers.
But some campaign groups, including the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), have criticised the AMC for providing just two major companies with a huge new market and paying them subsidies in return for securing lower prices.
Hoybraten said he accepted the criticism of the AMC deal and welcomed questions being raised about it, “because it underlines our message that prices have to come down further”.
He added the alternative to the AMC deal would have been for poorer countries to wait 10 or 15 years until prices had been forced down by competition from generic drugmakers.
“You can count how many children die every day without those vaccines,” he said. “So it is worth paying a price.”
He said GAVI would stick to its commitments under this AMC deal, but would in future look at ways of getting better value.
Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by David Hulmes