[Ip-health] F. Thomas, “Can the Price Ever be Right?" Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 31 (3) 2019

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Mar 12 23:59:52 PDT 2019


F. Thomas, “Can the Price Ever be Right?" *Pharmaceutical Technology Europe*
 31 (3) 2019.

As drug pricing comes under the microscope internationally, it appears that
collaboration with all stakeholders is key to tackling the issue.
Mar 02, 2019
By Felicity Thomas <http://www.pharmtech.com/felicity-thomas>
Pharmaceutical Technology
Volume 43, Issue 3, pg 5

Editor's Note: This article was published in *Pharmaceutical Technology
Europe's *March 2019 print issue.

As senior officials from seven Big Pharma companies recently faced the
music in Washington, DC where senators quizzed them on increasing drug
prices, the controversial and divisive topic has once again provided much
‘food for thought’.

Widely reported in the United States, there has been much discussion around
the topic of rapidly increasing drug prices, something that President Trump
has highlighted as a top priority during his tenure. Pharma companies have
emphatically laid the blame at the door of the pharmacy-benefit managers,
who have been criticized for using, what some believe to be, an arcane drug
price stabilizing system in the rebate negotiations that they employ.

This Senate hearing was the first major one since 2016 when Mylan CEO,
Heather Bresch, was questioned about the dramatic increase in the price of
EpiPens (1). Executives from Abbvie, Merck, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers
Squibb, Janssen, Pfizer, and Sanofi were all present at the committee
hearing on 26 February 2019, where they specified that certain structural
obstacles are in the way of lower drug costs. Although amenable to
potential congressional-imposed ideas about lowering prices, there was also
agreement among the executives that independently lowering prices was not
feasible financially or operationally (2).
A global issue

Yet, it isn’t in the US alone where drug pricing has been under the
microscope. Earlier this year, on the international stage, the executive
board meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) focused on the topic
of drug pricing, in particular pricing of cancer drugs. During this
meeting, held on 29 January 2019, WHO released a roadmap on access to
medicines, vaccines, and health products (Agenda item 5.7.1), which
outlines WHO’s work on access to medicines and vaccines across the period
of 2019–2023 (3). This roadmap was requested during the 2018 World Health

In response to the roadmap, Italy’s minister of health, Guilia Grillo, has
provided a proposed ‘first draft’ resolution to improve the transparency of
the pharma market, which she sent to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the
director general of WHO (4).

In Grillo’s letter, she specified that the draft resolution be discussed at
the upcoming World Health Assembly, which will take place in May 2019,
under the agenda item 11.7. “This resolution would provide WHO with the
mandate to: collect and analyse data on clinical trial outcomes and adverse
effects of health technologies; provide a forum for governments to share
information on drug prices, revenues, R&D costs, the public sector
investments and subsidies for R&D, marketing costs, and other related
information; as well as provide crucial information on the landscape of
patents on medical technologies, including information about disputes about
the validity and/or relevance of asserted patents; and take further actions
through meetings and for a designed to continue to make progress in this
field,” she wrote (4).

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations
(IFPMA), however, noted its disappointment in the area of pricing set out
in the roadmap (5). In a statement, head of DG Office & Legal Issues, Grega
Kumer, said, “… the roadmap takes a narrow approach by focusing on price
transparency rather than on the broader context that enables better,
sustainable financing policies. The unintended consequences of price
transparency on the capacity of companies to offer preferential pricing to
developing countries needs to be better understood before new work streams
are created.”
Collaboration is key

A common theme across all discussions on the topic of drug pricing appears
to be the necessity of collaboration to tackle the issue. As laid out by
WHO in its roadmap (3), engagement with key stakeholders, such as
international partners, research institutions, academia, donors, civil
society, and the private sector will be key to finding solutions to health
challenges, including pricing and affordability, and improving transparency.

As we approach a more intense period of innovation in bio/pharma, with more
personalized medicines, gene and cell therapies, and orphan disease targets
coming to the fore, it will be interesting to see if the issue of pricing
is managed effectively or not.

1. PharmTech, “Congressional Committee Questions Mylan CEO Over EpiPen
Controversy,” PharmTech.com, 21 Sept. 2016,
2. NBC News, “In Senate Testimony, Pharma Executive Admits Drug Prices Hit
Poor the Hardest,” ABCNews.com, 26 Feb. 2019,

3. WHO, “Medicines, Vaccines and Health Products,”
4. KEI Online, “Italy’s Draft WHO resolution: Improving the Transparency of
Markets for Drugs, Vaccines, and Other Health-Related Technologies,” 16
Feb. 2019, www.keionline.org/29721.
5. IFPMA, “EB 144 IFPMA Statement Under Agenda Item 5.7, Access to
Medicines and Vaccines Roadmap,” 29 Jan. 2019,
Article Details

*Pharmaceutical Technology Europe*
Vol. 31, No. 3
March 2019
Page: 5

When referring to this article, please cite it as F. Thomas, “Can the Price
Ever be Right?" *Pharmaceutical Technology Europe* 31 (3) 2019.

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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