Medicines shouldn’t be a luxury: it’s time to stop big pharma’s profiteering
The world is facing an access to medicines crisis, and Europe is no exception. Over-priced lifesaving medicines are being rationed in high-income countries due to the increased financial stress on healthcare systems. Whether it’s new drugs for the treatment of hepatitis C, cancer or cystic fibrosis, people across Europe are struggling to access the medicines they need because of increasingly high prices.
Why are drugs so expensive?
The astronomical price of many essential medicines stems primarily from patent monopolies held by pharmaceutical corporations and a lack of price-lowering competition. High drug prices have long restricted access to affordable and lifesaving treatment needed by millions of people in developing countries.
How big pharma makes taxpayers pay twice for medicines. Watch our series of explainers
🇪🇺 Europe is no exception
People across Europe are increasingly struggling to access the medicines they need because of rising medicine prices.
The game changing hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir provides a striking example: Since its market approval in 2014, sofosbuvir, a new drug to treat hepatitis C, continues to be rationed by several European governments due to its high price of €20,000 per treatment course.
An affordable price IS possible
MSF procures the same drug at €75 per treatment course from generics manufacturers. The extreme range in prices charged for this essential medicine in different countries reflects the arbitrary nature of price setting by pharmaceutical corporations, with no rationale other than profit-maximisation made possible by abuse of the patent system.
As of December 2019, the EU has a new Commission where the new Commissioner for Health has a clear mandate to address the issue of access to affordable medicines.
Now is the right moment for governments in Europe to demonstrate political will and task the next European Commission to find more adapted ways to support biomedical Research & Development that ensures access to affordable medicines that people need.
But what will they do about it?
It’s commonly argued that giving monopolies and other forms of exclusivity rights to pharmaceutical corporations is necessary to promote the development of new medical tools.
But is it working? Let’s look closer at the social cost:
- Pharmaceutical corporations can charge whatever price they want, with no rationale other than maximizing their profits
- Exorbitant drug prices undermine the sustainability of healthcare systems for people in Europe and around the world.
- The current system has failed to stimulate real innovation that answers to priority health needs. Drugs that are deemed less economically profitable—such as antibiotics, medicines for Ebola or antidotes for snakebites—lack investment by the pharmaceutical industry, despite killing hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries.
- The public and philanthropic sectors contribute substantially to the R&D of medicines through grants, tax credits and in-kind contributions by research institutes, treatment providers and patients involved in clinical and operational research. Nevertheless, medicines, often developed through multi-sectoral partnerships, continue to be “owned” exclusively by monopoly-holding pharmaceutical corporations and remain unaffordable and inaccessible for many.