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Countries hail ‘landmark’ drug pricing transparency resolution, despite watering down

US among those in favour of price transparency

Italy

First proposed by Italy, the resolution has now been adopted at the World Health Assembly

Member nations of the World Health Organisation have agreed a new resolution to demand greater transparency from the pharma industry in its drug pricing, which many have called a landmark decision.

The resolution, first put forward by Italy, was passed yesterday at the WHO’s World Health Assembly, despite opposition from the UK, Germany and Hungary.

It says that nations should now “take appropriate measures to publicly share information on net prices,” and proposes structures at the WHO and individual country levels to make this a reality.

The resolution originally called for the WHO to compel pharmaceutical companies to divulge information on drug pricing, and allow it to analyse data on procurement prices and costs from clinical trials.

It sought to create a mandate for member states and the WHO to create systems to collect and share information throughout pharma's business: on prices, sales, units sold, patents, public and private sector R&D costs, R&D subsidies and other relevant data.

However heated debate among the nations saw the strongest measures written out of the agreement.

The US, Japan and Switzerland agreed to support price transparency proposals, but opposed transparency in regard to R&D costs.

Nevertheless, the agreement has been hailed as a major step forward by campaigners who want greater price transparency in medicines, and who say it will help control spending on prescription drugs by allowing countries to compare the prices charged by pharma across different territories.

The decision reflects growing pressure on pharma prices in the most developed nations, especially the US, where numerous enquiries into high prices are underway.

What was perhaps most remarkable about yesterday’s vote was that the delegation from the US voted in favour of the resolution – US government defence of the sector has been unwavering over the years, but the Trump administration’s ‘war’ on drug prices has changed policy dramatically. This has included proposals to introduce international reference pricing in the US, though most believe this will never become law.

The pharma industry values confidential negotiations on price highly, and argues that it allows it to set prices appropriate to each country’s ability to pay.

The UK’s opposition to resolution reflects the country’s strong support for the sector, including homegrown giants GSK and AstraZeneca.

NHS England is also reporting great success in driving down prices in its negotiations with individual pharma companies, something which both sides say is only possible because the terms of the deal are not disclosed.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), the sector’s international lobby group, hasn’t commented on the passing of the resolution, but said before the meeting that it acknowledged "concerns about affordability and resource constraints on health systems".

Nevertheless, it said it was opposed to measures to increase transparency and controls on intellectual property, which it says would deter ‘holistic and sustainable solutions’ to access.

James Love, head of the transparency campaign group Knowledge Ecology International called the resolution a “solid start” in addressing the issue but said the text made “tortured dances around R&D costs”.

In a blog posting, he commented: “There are many people in NGOs, governments, and as individuals, who did a lot of work to move this forward — a big sprawling community that wants to pull back the curtain of secrecy and have more transparency. This resolution is a pretty good start, while there is, of course, a lot more to do to increase transparency, particularly on R&D costs.”

Read the resolution in full here: Improving the transparency of markets for medicines, vaccines, and other health products

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

29th May 2019

From: Healthcare

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