[Ip-health] Stephen Doughty in The Guardian: Britain must do more to stop drug firms from lining their pockets

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri May 10 02:52:36 PDT 2019


Britain must do more to stop drug firms from lining their pockets

Stephen Doughty

Overcharging for life-saving medicines costs lives, yet the UK seems
reluctant to support efforts to encourage fairer pricing

Fri 10 May 2019 09.00 BST

In a year when the British government should be working to secure progress
towards universal health coverage, they are failing to champion access to
life-saving medicines globally.

The Italian government has put forward a draft resolution to improve the
transparency of markets for drugs, vaccines and other health-related
technologies, to be discussed at the World Health Assembly in 10 days’ time.

The resolution sets out an ambitious but practical plan to make clinical
trial data and drug pricing, research and development investment –
including public contributions – and progressively more transparent. The
aim is to improve access to information and therefore strengthen the
state’s position when negotiating with industry on what they pay for

Pharmaceutical companies currently have the upper hand when negotiating
drug pricing, which can lead to market failures such as low- and
middle-income countries paying more than high-income countries for certain
medicines. For example, north African countries were paying more for
Pfizer’s PCV13 pneumonia vaccine than France.

Globally,100 million people a year are being pushed into poverty because of
out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. While gains have been made in reducing
the price of some treatments, new therapies for HIV, tuberculosis,
hepatitis C, diabetes and cancer remain prohibitively expensive.

In Access Denied, a report by the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and
Aids, we highlighted the market failures that have led to a lack of
investment in paediatric HIV medicines. Children living with HIV in the
poorest parts of the world should be a clear priority, but the nature of
the research and development system discourages investment. It is this kind
of market failure that the World Health Organization (WHO) is attempting to
rectify with the draft resolution.

The lowest price for bedaquiline, a new tuberculosis medicine, is $400
(£308) for a six-month course. But the drug must be taken as part of a £928
regimen that is unaffordable for many low- and middle-income countries.
Because of its high price, only 20% of people in need of bedaquiline have
received access to it – even though the drug was financed by philanthropic
and public funding sources, including from the UK.

Similarly, Herceptin – a breast cancer treatment largely funded by the
British taxpayer, according to a report by StopAids and Global Justice Now
– costs £19,418 in Peru, even though the country’s GDP per capita sits at

The draft resolution has 10 co-sponsors so far. However, some northern
European countries, including the UK, are reportedly attempting to water it

Last month, 35 cross-party MPs joined me in calling on the British
government to support this WHO resolution. It is disappointing that the UK
is seemingly more inclined to listen to pharmaceutical lobby groups rather
than patients, civil society organisations and elected MPs. I will be
writing to Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care,
asking for an urgent review of the UK’s position on the resolution.

There is a second consultation on the resolution taking place for member
states at the WHO on Friday. The UK government should positively engage and
support this resolution as a practical way to tackle high drug prices,
creating a more just and equitable research and development system for all.

• Stephen Doughty MP is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on
HIV and Aids. He has been leading parliamentary actions on the resolution

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

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