GENEVA (Reuters) – Governments are working on a drug price transparency agreement at the annual World Health Organization (WHO) assembly, but activists said they feared that the crucial costs could be left out, allowing pharmaceutical companies to keep prices high.
Activists say that some drugs are exorbitantly priced, although they are often developed with public funding, and health workers often pay too much, as governments negotiate prices without knowing what the cost of the treatment to develop is.
"We are not talking about a revolution for the sector, we are only defining a fair price based on what has been invested," said Patrick Durisch of Public Eye, a Swiss non-profit organization. "Why should it be different for the pharmaceutical industry compared to other sectors?"
A six-page draft published by the WHO on Thursday urges states to publish the prices and costs of medicines, vaccines, cellular and genetic therapies and other health technologies, and improve the transparency of medical patents.
The draft, a work in progress with many proposed changes to the text, could also require the WHO to collect and analyze data and costs from clinical studies and supply prices for medicines and vaccines, although the project has shown that Switzerland, Germany and Japan requested that section to be deleted.
On Monday, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said that the United States has been a great help for greater transparency of drug prices, hoping to break down the "list prices" published for drugs and "expenses lives "for consumers.
But there have been some areas where the veil of corporate secrecy may not be worth it, as in the case of R&D spending, Azar told reporters.
"The question around research and development is: is that really significant transparency and the information that would go into the pricing and negotiation of products? We suspect it is not necessarily the area with the highest value for our efforts, but we continue to consider it. "
Proponents of transparency said they feared that a handful of countries, including Germany and Britain, are trying to kill the resolution with "a thousand cuts".
Gaelle Krikorian of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said she could not understand why governments, which are buying drugs, wanted to be blinded in price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies.
"We want to open the black box," he said.
James Love, director of Knowledge Economy International, said that although the resolution was not mandatory, asking companies to report the cost of clinical trials has proved controversial.
"There is a strong possibility that the delegates are in agreement about a resolution that does not touch the costs at all," he said.
The assembly ends on Tuesday.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alexandra Hudson
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