Albert Burla, CEO of Pfizer, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on May 25, 2022.
Adam Galicchi | CNBC
Pfizer’s CEO said on Wednesday he “would not worry too much” about the recent monkeypox outbreak that saw cases of infection rise in non-endemic countries.
Albert Burla told CNBC that current data on the disease indicate that it is not transmitted as easily as other viruses, such as Covid-19, and that it is unlikely to lead to a pandemic.
“I don’t have all the information in front of me,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “With everything I know, I wouldn’t worry too much.”
“This does not mean that we should relax,” he continued. “I think we should watch where the situation goes.”
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection endemic to central and western Africa. It is spread by close contact with people, animals, or materials infected with the virus, with symptoms including rash, fever, headache, muscle aches, swelling, and back pain.
While most cases are mild, and usually resolve within two to four weeks, health experts have been baffled by the recent rise in countries without a history of the disease and patients without travel links to endemic countries.
As of Wednesday, at least 237 confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported in countries outside Africa, including the United Arab Emirates – the first Gulf country to report a case.
Borla noted that the availability of current treatments is cause for optimism. Smallpox vaccines have proven 85% effective against monkeypox, and France and Denmark are already considering targeted vaccination campaigns for those most at risk of transmitting the disease.
The world’s poorest countries get medicines at cost
In a separate announcement Wednesday, Pfizer said it would make all its patented drugs available at a not-for-profit price to the world’s poorest countries.
“45 countries, 1.2 billion people will have access to all of our patented products at cost,” Borla said.
The drug giant said the plan covers 23 wholly owned and patented drugs and vaccines for infectious diseases, certain types of cancer, and some other rare and infectious diseases.
The group of drugs includes Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, which was developed using BioNTech, which Borla said would be of immediate benefit.
The list also includes the Covid-19 drug Paxlovid and the breast cancer drug Ibrance, as well as the pneumonia vaccine Prevnar 13, the rheumatoid arthritis drug Xeljanz and the cancer treatments Xalkori and Inlyta.
More drugs and vaccines will be added to the list as they are launched.
27 low-income countries and 18 low-income countries covering most of Africa and much of Southeast Asia will be included in Pfizer’s programme, called the Agreement for a Healthier World.
Xinhua News Agency | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
Through the program, Pfizer said, it aims to improve the ease and speed of access to vital medicines for poor countries.
Burla said he is meeting the company’s goal, which he set when he took office in 2019, to “reduce the number of people on the planet who cannot afford their medicines by 50%” by 2023.
“Today we’re going to make it happen,” he said, adding that shareholders “must believe we’re doing the right thing.”
According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it can usually take four to seven years for new treatments to become available in low-income countries compared to advanced economies — if they become available at all.
27 low-income countries and 18 low-income countries covering most of Africa and much of Southeast Asia will be included in the plan, dubbed the “Agreement for a Healthier World”.
The drug company has previously been criticized for rolling out a Covid-19 vaccine and refusing to concede intellectual property rights to the ring even as it left some poor countries waiting months for their first doses.
Burla said the new plan has received information from some of these shortcomings, and will provide greater support in terms of drug delivery and treatment implementation.
“Countries were not ready to receive vaccines,” he said of Kommernaty’s launch.
“They were not in a position to organize vaccination campaigns and in fact there was hesitation in these countries. What we have to worry about is creating a medical infrastructure in these countries so that they can do the vaccinations,” he said.
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