Oxfam just released a report on the development of drugs to treat the most prevalent diseases in developing nations. For a summary and to download the report, click here. It cites an unnamed consulting group that has put a price tag on the neglect. Does anyone know which consulting group that is? Doesn't sound like any of the usual suspects to me...and it would be extremely enlightening to know how they came up with the figure. Somehow it seems understated, given the hatred that the phrase "pharma industry" appears to inspire in some quarters. This is another call to action for more pharma CEOs and top management. Will stating it in terms of the potential "ROI" for taking steps to change the situation, the ROI language that management loves so well, get more of them respond? (Perhaps naming the source of the trillion-dollar-figure quote would have helped) One small point of light? Wyeth will begin supplying its Prevnar vaccine to WHO, Unicef and other international aid groups to help prevent pneumococcal infections in the developing world. The company has changed its Pearl River operations from vial to prefilled syringes, and will begin producing Prevnar 13, a new form of the vaccine, but will use vial filling for this operation, since that form is still preferred in the areas involved, and it will supply the original form, Prevnar 7. Below, an excerpt from Oxfam's summary statement. "The industry is burying its head in the sand. More than 85% of world consumers are underserved or have no access to its medicines. The industry must recognize that charging high prices, quashing generic competition, developing medicines only for those rich enough to pay and fighting for harsher patent laws is an ineffective business strategy for new markets, as much as it is a moral outrage," said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International Executive Director."Investors are worried about the industry's performance. They know that emerging markets are key for the industry's future growth but companies have been responding to the challenge of breaking into emerging markets in an ad-hoc and inconsistent way. This is bad for the industry and bad for poor people who are still facing devastating diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, asthma, cancer, and HIV/AIDS without affordable medicines," Hobbs said. The report reveals shortcomings where the industry:
Has failed to implement a systematic and transparent tiered-pricing policy, where prices for all essential medicines are set according to people's ability to pay;Continues largely to neglect research and development into diseases that predominantly affect poor people in developing countries;Continues to be inflexible in protecting intellectual property, including challenging poor countries in court to stop them using legal public health safeguards;
Continues to rely too heavily on donations to get affordable medicines to people, even though this is unsustainable and sometimes counter-productive.
Oxfam notes that some companies are offering differentiated prices but this is extremely limited and mainly for high-profile diseases such as HIV and AIDS. However, these offers are not systematic worldwide and are often still priced well above the means of people living in developing countries. Oxfam says that drug companies often adapt pricing in developing countries solely as a reflection of the publicity that surrounds the disease or the country.For instance, Abbott Laboratories was selling Kaletra a second line anti-retroviral medicine - at $2,200 per patient per year in low middle-income countries like Guatemala, where a person's average wage is $2,400 a year. Only until Thailand, in response to the needs of poor HIV patients, issued a compulsory license to reduce the price of Kaletra to $1,000, did Abbott reduce the price of Kaletra worldwide to $1,000 per patient per year. Also in Thailand, French giant Sanofi-Aventis offered its cardiovascular disease medicine Plavix at a price that was 60 times more expensive than Emcure, the Indian generic version. In March 2007, it responded to Thailand's use of compulsory licensing by offering a 70% cut.Oxfam's report says that companies are still not investing enough into researching and developing medicines for diseases that predominantly affect poor people in developing countries. Between 1999 and 2004, there were only three new innovative drugs targeted at diseases affecting the developing world out of 163 medicines brought to the market.