KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — Countries are still negotiating behind closed doors on a game-changing resolution at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) annual assembly that aims to make the costs and prices of medicines transparent.
Health Policy Watch reported that the most contentious issue in the resolution at the 72nd World Health Assembly — introduced by Italy and co-sponsored by Malaysia and several other countries — was the public disclosure of the costs of pharmaceutical companies’ research and development (R&D), including any public subsidies received, during a drug’s regulatory approval.
The United Kingdom was still vocally critical of the draft text during Friday’s sessions at the World Health Assembly, while Germany’s opposition was a little more muted, observers told Health Policy Watch.
The drug pricing transparency resolution’s main opponents are reportedly Germany, France, and the UK.
The latest draft of the resolution, filled with proposed amendments, additions and deletions, urges states to publish prices and various costs like R&D costs, the cost of clinical trials, and marketing costs of medicines, vaccines, cell and gene therapies, diagnostic tests, and other health-related products and services. The resolution also seeks to improve the transparency of medical patents.
A WHO official told Health Policy Watch that another revised version of the resolution was expected to be published today along with a longer list of co-sponsors joining the original group of 11 nations that supported it.
Reuters reported United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as saying last Monday that the US supported greater transparency in drug pricing, hoping to reduce published “list prices” for drugs and “out of pocket expenses” for patients.
But he also reportedly said lifting corporate secrecy in areas like R&D spending may not be useful.
“The question around R&D is: is that actually meaningful transparency, and information that would go into the pricing and negotiation of products? We suspect that is not necessarily the highest value area for our efforts, but we continue to look at that,” Azar was quoted saying.
US Senator Bernie Sanders claimed that US President Donald Trump was blocking the drug pricing transparency resolution.
According to Health Policy Watch, campaigners point out that the costs of drug development frequently include tax breaks and public subsidies. Pharmaceutical companies often claim that it costs US$1 billion to develop a new drug, thus justifying higher prices to cover future research and the cost of failed products that don’t make it to the market. But R&D costs are usually not known.
“We are not talking about a revolution for the sector, we are talking about just setting a fair price according to what has been invested,” Patrick Durisch at Public Eye, a Swiss non-profit organization, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
“Why should it be different for the pharmaceutical industry than in other sectors?”