The Irish Times view on drug prices: Big Pharma’s hostages

The presence of so many drug manufacturers in Ireland means we are in a unique position to open a dialogue with industry to explore alternative models for the pricing of medicines.

Pharmaceutical prices: What was once an issue that primarily affected the developing world is now having an impact on high-income countries.

Pharmaceutical prices: What was once an issue that primarily affected the developing world is now having an impact on high-income countries.

 

Rising prices of new medicines are having a profound impact globally and are now exceeding the capacity of even the wealthiest of countries to pay, a recent Dublin conference on drug prices heard.

Existing patent laws mean that once a drug is approved by regulators it enjoys a competitive-free environment for up to 20 years. And while research and development costs are undoubtedly high, some experts believe these costs are not as substantial as the international pharmaceutical industry suggests.

Treatments for life-threatening infections and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and Hepatitis C are increasingly unaffordable for both individuals and health systems

What was once an issue that primarily affected the developing world is now having an impact on high-income countries, the conference was told. Indeed the Republic is one of the slowest in Europe to provide public funding for newly approved treatments.

As a result of rising prices globally, treatments for life-threatening infections and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and Hepatitis C are increasingly unaffordable for both individuals and health systems. This can force countries to ration treatments or to take other severe cost-saving measures, effectively denying patients treatment.

In Ireland, some six months into 2017, the €30 million allocated by the Government to the Hepatitis C treatment programme was virtually spent and treating doctors were told to stop applying for funding for new patients.

Dutch intellectual patent expert Ellen ‘t Hoen told the conference, organised by Médecins San Frontières and other advocacy groups, that governments were frequently in a “hostage situation” when dealing with Big Pharma. She suggested public policy was being driven by a fear that companies will not develop new drugs.

As a major European manufacturing base for pharmaceutical companies, there is also an unspoken fear among politicians and others of driving these manufacturers abroad.

Yet the presence of so many drug manufacturers in Ireland means we are in a unique position to open a dialogue with industry to explore alternative models for the pricing of medicines.

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