WHO Fair Pricing Report Misleads Public Debate

In America the 50 fold rise in the price of the medicine Daraprim (pyrimethamine) in 2016 was rightly a scandal. But for the WHO’s Fair Pricing report to suggest that it was an example of a common global problem rather than a special US case is also wrong. It misleads public debate and threatens to make the WHO look untrustworthy.

The ‘phospho’ frenzy in Brazil – which started with the academic supply of an untested anti-cancer treatment – and the waste of public research money it has caused is the sort of tragedy the WHO’s Fair Medicines Pricing Forum should highlight if it wants to reduce threats to public health in poorer countries.

The development of effective treatments for Hepatitis C and their affordable supply across the world has been a pharmaceutical industry triumph, saving both lives and money. The WHO’s Fair Pricing report fails to adequately understand global public interests in medicines like sofosbuvir, and the importance of Ramsey pricing in facilitating fair access to innovative medicines.

The WHO’s Fair Pricing report estimates of the costs of developing new medicines but ignores the costs of capital. This could encourage policies that undermine the economic viability of the research based pharmaceutical industry in the US, Europe and globally.

The WHO’s Fair Pricing Forum should acknowledge that the failure of nations like India to assure a sustainable, primary care led, supply of low-cost off patent medicines to poorer sections of their populations is a serious weakness that has world-wide implications.

Driving the prices of innovative medicines down to below levels which communities are able to pay will in time cut private investment in biomedical R&D. If the WHO Fair Pricing Forum were to succeed in promoting this there would be little chance of public investment making up the shortfall.

Professor David Taylor's picture

Professor David Taylor

David Taylor is Emeritus Professor of Pharmaceutical and Public Health Policy, University College London

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