Covidien, which makes so-called injectable nasal decongestants, is launching a clinical trial with Merck and ZymoGenetics Inc. that will give poor countries a better product. The study will evaluate the effects of the new drug based on how it fares compared with two existing products, known as Albuterol nasal spray and Cipro nasal spray.
The two existing products cost less than $4 each for a two-month supply, but one is sold for $19 and the other sells for $35. Merck is planning to give the proprietary, injectable product to the study participants, said Stephen James, Merck’s vice president of research and development. The formulation of the new product hasn’t been decided, but analysts estimate that it will cost less than $3 each. The new, cheaper formulation would not qualify for special preferences under the GAVI Alliance, a global health initiative supported by countries including the United States, which give poor countries preferential access to needed health products. But if Merck can produce a more economical product, the company and other manufacturers could use the cheaper pricing as a marketing tool for their existing products.
The two existing products are injectable flu vaccinations, but they also work as nasal decongestants. And Cipro is already an emergency-disposable drug, much like nitroglycerin.
The Merck-ZymoGenetics trial is based on whether one of the old or new products can provide two million fewer patients in a year. Cipro is recommended for treating a large proportion of the world’s people, about 1.8 billion, which are said to suffer colds and other infectious diseases on average every year. The current product helps many of them by relieving their congestion, alleviating their sneezing, and perhaps treating their runny noses. The current form of Albuterol, at more than four times the price of the new formulation, works mostly by improving nasal flow and can improve breathing.
“We can’t make global medicines that are affordable for everyone, and every patient who needs a medicine is being treated as a priority,” said Dave Gunn, Merck’s senior vice president of global health research and development. “But we still have an opportunity to provide medicine that is cheaper for communities where health systems can’t provide it.”