Costs for medical drugs have been “exploding” since the 1980s, while their effects have “diminished,” Swiss health expert Patrick Durisch explained during a hearing on the pharmaceutical industry organized on Wednesday for the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg. Medicine
Durisch, a trained veterinary doctor working with the Swiss NGO The Berne Declaration — Health Action International, showed how the price of cancer drugs has increased in the United States during the period 1985 to 2010.
“Prices of cancer drugs have doubled in the last ten years, with little relationship to clinical benefits,” echoed Patrick Beyer, a senior advisor of the World Health Organization, who also presented at the hearing.
Due to the use of inferiority trials, however, which only show that a drug is not any worse, though not necessarily better, than an existing drug, “It is more and more difficult to tell the real value compared to what already exists,” Durisch declared.
Drug treatments for Hepatitis C were of particular interest during the hearing, which was organized for PACE members on the committee for Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, who are currently working on the report “Protecting patients and public health against undue influence of the pharmaceutical industry.”
Beyer showed that the most cutting edge Hepatitis C drugs cost up to 60,000 U.S. dollars a year.
Francois Bouvy, a director of market access at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), argued that research and development costs of new drugs represented “a tremendous risk” for pharmaceutical companies during the first phase of development, and that the increased costs during periods of “market exclusivity” after a drug is brought to market were natural and important incentives for innovation.
Durish, however, cited Andrew Witty, chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, who claimed, “The 1 billion pound price tag [for developing a single new medicine] is one of the great myths of the industry.”
“For us, there is a misalignment of financial incentives and public health needs,” Durisch explained. “We don’t see the pharmaceutical industry as the bad guys — we see it rather as a systemic problem.”
“The patent system is not the best system for public health. It creates drugs that are the most profitable and not necessarily what the public needs,” affirmed Beyer.
“There are a lot of different models that might be better, but switching to a different model is very difficult. Governments are reluctant to pay taxpayers’ money into a new system of innovation,” he added.
The PACE report is due to be debated by the Committee for Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development during its next meeting in September. Enditem

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