In a commentary article in the May/June issue of Health Affairs, Dr. Offit analyzes why pharmaceutical companies have abandoned vaccines, and urges legislators to protect vaccines as a vital instrument of public health.
The number of companies making vaccines has declined from 26 in 1967, to 17 in 1980, to just five in 2004. Although some of these changes result from mergers among pharmaceutical companies, for the most part, says Dr. Offit, a series of events has made the manufacture of vaccines more expensive, and their sale less profitable.
To begin with, the market for vaccines is small compared to that for drugs. "Vaccines are used at most several times in a lifetime; drugs are often used every day," writes Dr. Offit. He cites the vaccine against pneumococcal disease in children, which has annual U.S. gross sales of about $1 billion, the highest revenue generated by a vaccine. In contrast, markets for cholesterol-lowering agents, hair loss products, potency drugs, or drugs for heart disease or obesity are often $7 billion or more per drug.
Furthermore, larger pharmaceutical companies have acquired firms that previously had vaccines as their sole or primary product. So in competing against drugs for a company's internal resources, vaccines most often lose. Among the four large pharmaceutical companies still making vaccines, says Dr. Offit, vaccines bring in 6 percent or less of their total revenue. "All four companies could stop making vaccines tomorrow without much impact on their bottom lines," he writ
Contact: John Ascenzi
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia