High prices for medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tests are often justified by the pharmaceutical industry's claims that it costs billions in research and development (R&D) to bring them to market. However, companies do not routinely disclose how much they actually spend on R&D in any detail. Clinical trials are widely regarded as the most expensive part of this process, yet the costs of clinical trials are rarely made public even when they are funded by the public sector. Making clinical trial costs public would help determine the true cost of late-stage clinical research, and would enable governments and treatment providers to regulate and negotiate prices more effectively.
As we start to learn lessons from the COVID pandemic, there are a number of multilateral initiatives that aim to better prepare us for the next pandemic. One of these includes the resolution on clinical trials, to be tabled at the World Health Assembly (WHA) this year by the UK and Argentina. While this initiative aims to strengthen the coordination of clinical trials, avoid duplication and encourage timely publication of data, drafts show that it misses the opportunity to mandate reporting of clinical trial costs, including those funded by the public sector.
The 2019 WHA resolution (WHA 72.8) on “improving the transparency of markets for medicines, vaccines and other health products” urges member states to take steps to enhance dissemination and access to the costs of clinical trials. Legislation is also beginning to emerge in a number of countries with a focus on disclosure of R&D costs, including in the US and Brazil.
To build on these initiatives, the MSF Access Campaign hosted a roundtable webinar on 17 May 2022, in the week leading up to the 2022 WHA, to hear from some of those working on these initiatives, and to discuss the importance of disclosing the costs of clinical trials in light of the particular opportunity for this to be reflected in the resolution on clinical trials at the WHA.