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China homegrown Covid pill in national subsidy program
Published on: Friday, January 20, 2023
By: Nikkei, FMT
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China’s Azvudine will be priced at ¥11.58 (US$1.71) per pill. (Twitter pic/Liaoning Daily)
BEIJING: China’s homegrown Covid antiviral pill was included in the nation’s medical subsidy program, health authorities said, after pricing talks broke down with Pfizer Inc. to cover its more expensive Paxlovid.

Azvudine, developed by Henan-based Genuine Biotech, will be priced at ¥11.58 (US$1.71) per pill, and a box of 35 will be ¥175, compared with ¥1,890 (US$279) to ¥2,300 for a five-day course of 30 Paxlovid pills, according to the National Health Commission.

The National Healthcare Security Administration, which oversees the medical subsidy system, didn’t disclose details of the pricing talks with Pfizer, only saying that negotiations failed due to the high bulk price that Pfizer quoted. But rumors circulating on Chinese social media said the company offered to drop Paxlovid’s price as low as ¥600 for a course.

China’s rapid unwinding of Covid restrictions last month triggered a wave of stockpiling of antiviral drugs including Paxlovid, but access to the treatment remains limited due to low domestic supply. That opened the door to a thriving black market for Indian generic versions of Paxlovid. Chinese authorities recently seized a batch of fake versions of Paxlovid as demand for Covid-19 antivirals skyrocketed.

The availability of Paxlovid and Azvudine improved in recent days in urban areas, but the drugs remain scarce in rural areas. From Jan 10 to Jan 16, medical staff at multiple village and town health centers in rural Guangdong areas told Caixin that neither antiviral remedy was available.

Some county-level hospitals have access to a small amount of the drugs, which are available only for patients with severe Covid in intensive care units. A vice dean at a county hospital in Shaoguan, in northern Guangdong province, said his hospital had fewer than 50 boxes of Paxlovid and five boxes of Azvudine.

Ideally, Paxlovid should be taken within five days after the first sign of symptoms to prevent high-risk Covid patients from becoming severe. Pfizer has asserted that Paxlovid reduced hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients by 89%.

Azvudine is suggested for adult patients with moderate infections, according to China’s latest version of official guidelines on Covid treatment.

An expert in Covid treatment told Caixin that severe patients often have been infected for more than five days, and the effect of antiviral drugs is greatly reduced for them.

Hospitals are clear about the ideal usage of the drugs, but due to huge demand and concerns of controversy over the way the drugs are distributed, they have to exclude outpatients from access to the drugs and concentrate resources on hospitalised patients with severe Covid, some hospitals told Caixin.