More transparency in drug pricing needed


We have written about this on several occasions. However, there is a need to inject more urgency into this issue. Drug prices are escalating especially the newer generations of medicines.

Often the defence to expensive medicines is the high cost of research and manufacturing. However, details are sketchy as to how the eventual prices are decided upon. There is no fixed model and it is entirely at the fancies of the pharmaceutical companies.

There must be a stronger movement to demand for greater transparency in drug pricing.

Keeping much needed medications out of reach of the average Joe and even many governments is a form of injustice.

We are re-producing several articles we see as relevant to the debate. We echo the sentiments presented.

Monday, 19 September 2016
Report aims to make medicines accessible for many more people

THE report recently released by the United Nations High Level Panel on Access to Medicines (UNHLP) has drawn criticism from pharmaceutical corporations and industry groups.

Some of these groups are saying that the report calls for taking R&D out of the hands of entrepreneurs.

They also allege the stripping of intellectual rights from private corporations.

This is a misrepresentation of the report and the UNHLP’s recommendations.

The UNHLP report essentially addresses the problem of how millions of people cannot get access to medicines.

This is caused by high prices or due to the lack of research into neglected diseases.

Much of this occurs in the poor and developing nations.

The main pillars that prop up high prices of medicines and the lack of treatments are many.

These include proprietary patents that are unjustifiably renewed through “evergreening” in order to keep competitors that can make cheap generic versions.

The next is the high costs of R&D and the need to recoup those costs, as claimed by private corporations, and the preferential investment for R&D into diseases that are financially lucrative.

The UNHLP makes several recommendations to address these factors.

First, that governments utilize legislation to prevent the “evergreening” of drug patents.

Second, that governments utilize existing legislative frameworks provided for in the WTO agreement on intellectual property rights (TRIPS) to produce affordable versions of proprietary drugs, if there is a dire public health need.

They should not bow to threats or pressure from corporations or other governments.

Third, for governments to force corporations to disclose the true costs of R&D, production and marketing, as well as any public R&D funds received, in order to justify the high prices demanded.

Fourth, for governments to work towards an R&D Convention that will develop and implement new financial and incentive models to promote innovation for public health needs that are less financially lucrative.

In summary, the UNHLP report makes the case that governments should work to implement measures that will prevent unjustified patent issues, exorbitant drug prices and profit-driven R&D from achieving the public health needs of their citizens.

While the market has contributed significantly to the development of new drugs, the current paradigm keeps them out of the hands of billions who are unable to afford them.


School of Pharmacy, Monash University Malaysia

Tuesday, 22 November 2016 | MYT 12:00 AM

No sense in producing unaffordable medicines

I REFER to the letter “Act fast to get life-saving antivirals” (The Star, Nov 16). The author rightly raises the issue of how the vast majority of Malaysians suffering from Hepatitis C (HCV) are unable to obtain treatment with newer antivirals such as sofosbuvir (brand name Sovaldi) due to the exorbitant costs. Malaysians are doubly unfortunate as this country is currently excluded from the list of 101 developing countries that have obtained access to cheap generic versions of sofosbuvir due to licensing agreements with the pharmaceutical company Gilead.

Once again, we find ourselves returning to the question of why lifesaving medicines cost so much that patients cannot access them. The usual reason provided is that pharmaceutical companies have to recoup the high costs of R&D and production. In the case of sofosbuvir, research has shown that the cost of producing sofosbuvir is estimated to be a mere RM450 per treatment course, which is a tiny fraction of the RM144,000 final price tag. As for the cost of research, the study to originally develop sofosbuvir was in fact partially funded by taxpayers in the United States. When these facts are taken together, it becomes exceedingly difficult to understand how the exorbitant prices charged for this lifesaving medicine might be considered fair.

Patients should not be denied access to lifesaving treatment due to excessive profiteering. We strongly urge the Government to implement measures that will prevent unjustified patent issues and exorbitant drug prices that keep important medicines out of the hands of doctors and patients. After all, what use are lifesaving medicines if people are unable to afford them?


Monash University Malaysia

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