FC: So, it seems that the panel discussion was very intense. How did you find the debate and the choice of the panellists in general?
AS: It was very positive that voices from civil society, which are openly critical of the predominant market-driven R&D system, were on the panel with other stakeholders. If we want to address the problem of high-priced medicines, we need to address the elephant in the room and talk about tensions that arise between the current intellectual property system and affordable access to medicines.
FC: When we are talking about Intellectual Property, it seems that pharmaceutical companies and civil society organizations speak two completely different languages: where does the truth stand?
AS: The current research and development model works very well for the pharmaceutical industry. Companies benefit directly or indirectly from public funding for research, and then benefit from extensive intellectual property protection, which grants monopolies that enable companies to charge high prices of needed medicines. It is widely known that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable industries in the world, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it perpetuates its profit-driven model. What we—and many others—say is that we must explore alternative R&D models that deliver truly innovative medicines that patients need at affordable prices. For example, conditions, such as non-exclusive licensing, could be attached to public R&D funding streams.
FC: The message we heard today from industry to governments was “be careful with what you do, because you might lose much more than what you think”. Don’t you think that as civil society you should also consider this aspect when asking to review IP?
AS: Patients and public healthcare systems are already losing. The majority of new medicines that come to the market do not offer meaningful improvement over existing options. In addition to poor innovation, medicine prices are becoming unsustainably high. This is particularly relevant for, but not exclusive to, cancers and rare diseases. There is increasing consensus amongst a wide range of stakeholders, including policymakers, that we need to rethink the current model.
FC: In your last intervention you mentioned that value-based approach should not be the way forward, while we hear this concept appear more and more in the debates. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?
AS: Industry’s ‘value-based’ argument does little more than extend the current profit-driven model. It enables companies to continue charging high prices for medicines regardless of the actual R&D costs with the goal to maximise profits at the expenses of the public interest. As taxpayers, European citizens will continue paying twice for the medicines they need. And public healthcare systems will find it increasingly difficult to reimburse needed treatments. In countries with little or no healthcare coverage, the dire access to medicines situation will remain dire. We need to reject and move away from the industry’s concept of value-based pricing in which medicines are priced like luxury goods. In addition, we must deepen discussion about fair pricing for medicine and support alternative models for conducting biomedical R&D.
This interview was conducted by the Young Gasteiner Francesca Cattarin