Saturday, November 25, 2017

Non-transparent R&D investment makes drug costlier, Prof Sakiko Fukuda-Parr says in Dhaka

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2017-02-13 22:11:13 BdST

Pharmaceutical giants increase drug prices in the name of high investments in research and development (R&D), an international scholar Prof Sakiko Fukuda-Parr says, terming the process “non-transparent”.

Delivering a lecture on ‘health and trade regime’ in Dhaka on Monday, she also pointed out that there is “access gap” in healthcare due to costly drug prices both in developing and developed countries.

She proposed greater transparency on pricing of medicines and the costs of R&D and manufacturing, as well as a registry of patents to make medicines affordable to all at the lecture organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

Fukuda-Parr is currently teaching international affairs at The New School in New York and is serving as the vice-chair of the UN Committee for Development Policy.

She has also been closely involved in the shaping of the 2030 agenda for the sustainable development of the UN.

She was a member of the UN High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines – the panel that recommended solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context of health technologies.

In her talk, she delved into the critical challenges now facing the world – the rising costs of medicines and treatments that constrain millions, particularly in the developing countries, from accessing affordable healthcare.

She also proposed that countries create an alternative business model for R&D – delinking cost of investment from price and volume of sales to ensure affordability.

“The problem is that the manufacturers say we have to charge very high prices because we spend a lot on R & D. But no one knows what the truth is regarding what they actually spend,” she said.

“We cannot monitor that. The public has no way of knowing the cost of the R&D ….legitimate or not,” she said, before the audience comprising Bangladesh pharma regulators, manufacturers, and experts.

Explaining the current trade regimes, she said the scope and format of trade and investment have changed in the 21st century, creating new challenges.

“The format is more bilateral or regional rather than multilateral which is less coordinated and strengthens the power of large countries.

“Processes are negotiated in secret, not subject to political debates, but with strong private sector participation. So, it is more intrusive to national policy making such as public health priorities,” she said.

Fukuda-Parr also identified gaps in innovation. For example, she said neglected tropical diseases such as kala-azar, malaria, contribute to 14 percent of the global disease burden but gets only 1.4 percent of global health-related R&D expenditure.

“Only four products were registered between 2000 and 2011,” she said, adding that market-based incentives “inadequate to meet the need for R&D investment in new antibiotics”.

“Only one novel class of antibiotics developed in 40 years,” she said.

She presented TB case while giving examples of innovation gap. “Only two new drugs approved in 50 years. Underinvestment due to low financial incentives for companies leading to stalled scientific progress and commercial development."

Founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury who was involved in the Bangladesh’s first drug policy in 1982 making comments after her lecture asked Bangladesh authorities to regulate the pharma market to prevent spurious drugs.