Pharmaceutical companies make huge profits from the sale of medicines. Their performance is six times superior to that of the luxury industry. These business and financial practices are a barrier to easier and more widespread access to medicines. It is therefore a major public health issue both in our countries in the West and in emerging countries. Doctors have taken the initiative today to denounce these practices. On the one hand, Médecins Sans Frontières is calling for the rejection of a patent filed by Pfizer for a medicine against pneumonia: a world first that is dictated by the objective of providing access to healthcare to the greatest number of people. At the same time, in France, a hundred or so oncology doctors signed a column in Le Figaro to denounce the pharmaceutical companies' exorbitant margins. Whereas the world of health care has until now been one of discretion, or even connivance, this bronca resembles an awareness whose developments will have to be followed closely.
Médecins Sans Frontières opposes Pfizer's patent application for pneumonia vaccine
Médecins Sans Frontières filed today in India an application to reject the patent of the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer on the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13). The organization hopes to promote the emergence of a more affordable version of the vaccine for developing countries and humanitarian organizations. This is the first time that the patent of a vaccine (bio-similar) has been challenged by a medical organisation, with the aim of enabling millions more children to be protected against pneumonia.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of child mortality, killing nearly one million children every year. Currently, only two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), are producing the vaccine that could save many of these lives. Pfizer is charging too much for PCV13 (marketed as Prevenar) for many developing countries and humanitarian organizations. It costs 68 times more to vaccinate a child today than it did in 20011 , according to MSF's The Right Shot, a report published last year on the evolution of vaccine prices.. Pneumonia vaccine alone accounts for nearly half the cost of immunizing a child in the poorest countries.
"The pneumonia vaccine is the best selling vaccine in the world. In 2015 alone, Pfizer sold more than $6 billion worth of it, while at the same time many developing countries - where millions of children may be exposed to pneumonia - could not afford it, says Dr. Manica Balasegaram, Executive Director of MSF's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. To ensure that all children everywhere can be protected against this deadly disease, other manufacturers must enter the market and provide a vaccine at a much lower price than Pfizer. »
A vaccine manufacturer in India has already announced that it can introduce a pneumonia vaccine at a price of $6 per child (for the three doses needed) for public health programmes and humanitarian organisations such as MSF. This is a reduction of almost half of the current lowest price per child, and only for a limited number of developing countries through institutional funding to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
In 2015, at the World Health Assembly, all 193 Member States unanimously adopted a landmark resolution calling for access to more affordable vaccines and greater transparency in vaccine pricing. "Last year, more than 50 countries, including Indonesia, Jordan and Tunisia, spoke out against the price of vaccines and the difficulties of introducing new vaccines. We can no longer wait for all countries to be able to afford this vaccine.says Balasegaram.
Opposition to a patent application - a right available to citizens at the time of examination of the patent application - consists of submitting a technical analysis to the patent office to demonstrate that a particular aspect of a drug or vaccine is not worthy of patent protection under Indian law. A patent similar to the one being challenged today has been revoked by the European Patent Office and is currently being challenged in the Republic of Korea. Pfizer's patent relates to the method for combining 13 important antigens of the pneumococcus.
"Our opposition to the patent application demonstrates that the method that Pfizer is trying to patent is too obvious to merit a patent under Indian law. This is just one way to guarantee a monopoly for Pfizer for many years to come, says Leena Menghaney, MSF Access Campaign Manager for South Asia. India must push back the demands of pharmaceutical companies, backed by diplomatic pressure from the US and other countries, to change the criteria for adopting patents and limit generic competition. Pfizer's unjustified patent application for the pneumonia vaccine should be rejected and pave the way for the production of more affordable versions. »
After years of unsuccessful negotiations with Pfizer to lower the price of the vaccine in its own plans, MSF is now opposing the patent application in India, to allow manufacturers planning to produce the pneumonia vaccine to avoid this key hurdle when a more affordable version is launched.
"Pneumonia kills a child every 35 seconds, adds Balasegaram. As doctors, we have seen too many children die of pneumonia, and we are not going to back down until this vaccine is available to all countries. »
French doctors denounce the exorbitant price of certain drugs
The position of Médecins Sans Frontières falls at a time when doctors are denouncing the exorbitant price of certain drugs, particularly those recommended for certain cancers, to the point of angering many oncologists. An op-ed published by oncologists Dominique Maraninchi and Jean-Paul Vernant, this Tuesday in "Le Figaro"The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) calls for the introduction of a "fair price" for treatment.
"Numerous therapeutic innovations are appearing in the field of cancer. (...) However, the first increasing and now exorbitant cost of these innovations is likely to jeopardize these hopes."These two specialists, respectively former president of the National Cancer Institute (Inca) and author of the recommendations of the third Cancer Plan, write these two specialists.
According to oncologists, the cost of these drugs is in no way justified by their investment in research and development (R&D). On the contrary, "paradoxically, the prices of new products are exploding while the cost of their R&D has gone down."they write. "While previous cancer treatments often resulted from long and difficult screenings more or less systematically."the new molecules "are aimed at targets defined a priori, and most often provided by public research", the two oncologists point out. "In addition, these new treatments are granted marketing authorisations (MA) very quickly, they note.
"The accounts of the pharmaceutical industry themselves confirm this low level of expenditure, where on average 15 % of the branch's sales are allocated to R&D compared with more than 25 % for marketing expenditure, and where the announced profit margins exceed 15 %".These include the presidents of the Institut Curie and the Institut Gustave Roussy, Thierry Philip and Alexander Eggermont, as well as Patrice Viens, president of Unicancer (a hospital group dedicated to the fight against cancer).
For them, it would take "to make the price arbitration system more democratic and transparent by involving (...) representatives of patients and professionals". In addition, these specialists are asking for "to no longer accept extensions of patent terms that the speed of development of new therapeutics does not justify." and "to authorise, as already exists for the treatment of AIDS and opportunistic infections, the use of compulsory licences for developing countries".