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How Pfizer is leaning on government to make Big Pharma even bigger

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While its COVID-19 vaccines are in high demand, Pfizer has been lobbying the Federal Government to give pharmaceutical companies a long-term boost.

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Pfizer’s vaccines are being used to protect frontline workers, including hospital and health staff, and are now in higher demand given blood clot problems with the AstraZeneca alternative. Pfizer is the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical company, based on prescription revenue, and made US$42 billion last year, including payments from the Australian government.

As authorities try to ensure more vaccines are getting to more Australians, Pfizer has been lobbying for policy and tax changes that would benefit the company well beyond the pandemic.

The most contentious change would require the Morrison Government to overhaul the management of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and policies that dictate the level of taxpayer subsidies and the price paid by patients.

Pfizer claims the existing system is denying Australians access to new drugs and “providing little incentive for manufacturers to bring these treatments to market”. It is a complex issue, overshadowed by a less nuanced political debate over the need for fast and affordable access to new drugs, likely to again feature in the federal election campaign.

No major changes were announced in the budget, but the government has privately acknowledged the need to reach a resolution with pharmaceutical industry group Medicines Australia over what is known as the “comparator selection issue”. A five-year strategic agreement is due to end in July 2022 and Pfizer wants a resolution “without further delay”.

Pfizer has also been pushing the government to bolster the National Medical Stockpile, and facilitate better systems and infrastructure to support the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. It hopes these measures will lead to higher vaccination rates in Australia more broadly, benefitting not only Australia but the company as well.

Pfizer continues to oppose moves to waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, and wants to make research and development more profitable. One proposal before the government would provide significant tax relief for companies, like Pfizer, looking for new drugs to fight anti-microbial resistance. Pfizer argues that would “demonstrate Australia’s leadership in the face of a looming global health crisis”.

Pfizer also wants the government to harmonise rules around clinical trials to remove “differing State approvals processes and unnecessary red tape”.

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