We are not fooled: Global health activists confront pharmaceutical industry over excessive medicine prices
On 1st April 2016, activists across the world are protesting against the greed that blocks access to essential medicines. April Fools’ Day is an appropriate day to highlight both the extortionate price of medicines and the lack of transparency around research and development (R&D) costs.
The protest is coordinated by a coalition of over 25 health advocacy groups from 6 continents. Today’s demonstrations are being held outside offices of Pfizer, Gilead, Roche, the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
We demand an end to:
· unfair medicine pricing
· deception about research and development costs.
Instead, we want all countries to use public health safeguards to ensure better access to medicines and a global R&D agreement that would ensure better innovation for medicines.
“The public won’t be taken for fools by Big Pharma anymore! Martin Shkreli is not an outlier for gouging medicine prices! Together we’re standing up against the abusive practices of the global pharmaceutical industry, which continues to leave millions of people without access to the life-saving medicines they need”, said Luis Santiago from ACT UP.
Globally, more than two billion people do not have regular access to the critical medicines they need. This is one in three of the world’s population. More than half of these people live in Asia and Africa. Every year, 10 million people die from diseases because access to effective treatments is blocked by drug pricing.
One reason for this is the high cost of medicines under patent protection. Another is a refusal to see diseases like HIV in the context of poverty, malnutrition, and other material factors. There is no such thing as an epidemic that occurs independently of social problems around it.
The pharmaceutical industry justifies high prices by claiming R&D costs of over USD $2.9 billion per drug. But the independent campaign organisation Drugs for Neglected Diseases (DNDi), recently reported that new medicines can be developed for less than USD 200 million, including the cost of failed drugs. Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, broke ranks with other companies to state industry’s claims around R&D costs are “one of the great myths of the industry.”
In Boston, activists are protesting the role of Tufts University for non-transparent industry-backed studies by Professor Joseph DiMasi that mislead the public around these costs.
Drug companies spend more on marketing than on R&D – more than double in most cases. Early stages of medicine research are often funded by governments, charities, universities, and independent scientists – yet Big Pharma control the final price tag and gets the profits. Final pricing is unrelated to manufacturing cost. For example, it costs only USD 60 to 270 to produce a 12-week course for new hepatitis C medicines, yet these are priced at USD 84,000 in the US.
“Instead of setting the price reasonably around the costs of development and production, prices are often set based on how much profit can be squeezed out of people who are sick and often desperate,” said Anele Yawa from the Treatment Action Campaign.
Merith Basey, Executive Director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines emphasizes, “The public shouldn’t be tricked into paying multiple times for the life-saving medical research they helped to fund, only to find the end product is priced out of reach by Big Pharma. The system doesn’t have to work this way, we have the power to reclaim research for the public good.”
Furthermore, governments should more easily produce and distribute off-brand drugs without breaking intellectual property laws, since the latter mean that countries often have to use cost-cutting measures that restrict eligibility for drugs that can prevent and effectively treat diseases. These include essential, life-saving medicines for cancer, HIV, Tuberculosis, and hepatitis C, among others.
We urge governments to prioritise people’s health over pharmaceutical company profits. Governments, through the work of the United Nations High Level Panel (HLP) on Access to Medicines, have an historic opportunity to change the ways in which we pay for R&D and new medicines. There are viable alternatives to the current patent-based system before the HLP. These alternative models would both increase investment in R&D and lead to greater access to care.
DON’T BE FOOLED: There is no reasonable justification for excessive medicine pricing. We are united around the world to demand quality and affordable medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics. We urge leaders to put patients’ lives before Pharma greed and to confront corporate corruption and deceit!
· Access to critical, life-saving medicines irrespective of an individual’s ability to pay.
· Unobstructed use of legal intellectual property flexibilities to ensure simpler production and distribution of essential medicines.
· Pharmaceutical companies to respect the rights of countries to fully use the health protective measures of the WTO TRIPS Agreement and to drop all the judicial cases challenging the implementation of such measures, such as in Argentina and Brazil.
· Our governments to support and invest in alternative financing structures for medical R&D, such as prize funding, grants and subsidies.
· Increased R&D for new medicines that treat neglected or infectious diseases, such as Chagas, Ebola, TB, and Zika.
· Our governments to mandate transparency of R&D costs and the costs of drug production.
· Our governments to insist on, and enforce, non-exclusive (open access) licenses on all publicly financed medicines, thereby ensuring medicines are for the public good.
· A binding global research and development agreement that generates R&D based on health needs rather than market forces. Drug development should unlink R&D funding from the final drug price.
· Our governments to fully engage with and support the work of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines and that the panel places the right to life and the right to health before the private interests of pharmaceutical companies.
For information, contact:
DC: Alexandra Greenberg (Universities Allied for Essential Medicines); Tel: (917) 733-7997; firstname.lastname@example.org
New York: ACT UP New York email@example.com; Tel: (929) 248-8252 or (954) 482-1421;
France: ACT UP Paris firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @actupparis
South Africa: Lotti Rutter (Treatment Action Campaign) email@example.com; Tel: +27 81 818 8493; Twitter: @TAC and @FixPatentLaw
UK: ACT UP London firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ACTUP_LDN