Pfizer agrees to distribute cheaper, less-expensive versions of oxycodone for pain relief in developing countries

Pfizer is striking a deal with drug distributor Global Pharmaceuticals to give developing countries affordable access to Pfizer’s blockbuster painkiller, oxycodone, particularly in Africa. The deal is aimed at putting less expensive versions of the painkiller on the market. Many of these countries have little to no access to the drug, which has long been mostly manufactured in the United States and Europe. While the standard doses of oxycodone can cost more than $1, the makers of cheap versions say it will cost just $1 or less.

The deal, which officially takes effect in November, will provide cheaper versions of the oxycodone, dasidapine, in 40 countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Global Pharmaceuticals has a history of producing and distributing generic drugs, which is why Pfizer is willing to accept that it will have to pay some sales tax and royalties, as well as deals to give the distributor access to its data and expertise. While that is not unusual — even other corporations do these kind of deals to distribute generic drugs in poor countries — the company could not say how much it will spend on the subsidies.

A Pfizer spokesman declined to provide additional details about the arrangement. But Daniel Griswold, senior vice president and general counsel for Global Pharmaceuticals, said that the company would ensure a “balanced approach” to production. “The host government may dictate to us what it wants in supply, and we work to develop that in conjunction with the host government,” he said.

For its part, Pfizer will retain marketing control over the products it gives to Global Pharmaceuticals. This does not mean that it is not selling them, but rather that its remit is overseeing and managing the supply.

Since 2016, the company has been trying to move all production of the powerful opioid to cheaper versions that do not require opioid prescriptions. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has urged generic manufacturers to offer lower-cost versions of the popular opioid. Pfizer has said it is “open to negotiating with generic manufacturers to make generic versions of oxycodone available at lower prices.” However, the company said it currently does not plan to offer generics to the developing world.

A front-page New York Times article from this month illustrated how some drug makers have objected to the FDA’s policies. The Times found that some generic drug manufacturers have raised concerns with the FDA about the value of licensing to countries in the developing world. For instance, Indian drug maker Ranbaxy has also complained about increased oversight of the generic drug market and the need to keep some cheap opioid production separate from the brand-name. And a generic company is appealing the FDA’s denial of its approval to make generic versions of oxycodone in Australia.

Regardless of where the painkiller goes, it is expected to become the world’s most widely prescribed drug. Last year, more than 1 million Americans requested more than 15 billion prescriptions for it, according to the CDC. More than 90 percent of those prescriptions are written for oxycodone, the FDA says. And two-thirds of those are written for adults who use a prescription drug to treat cancer or chronic pain.

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