WHO Adopts Weakened Resolution on Drug Price Transparency

Regulatory NewsRegulatory News | 28 May 2019 |  By 

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday adopted a resolution to urge countries to publicly share the net prices of health products and the costs of clinical trials.

The resolution, adopted after three weeks of negotiations, also calls on United Nations member countries to better facilitate the public reporting of patent status information and marketing approval status of health products, as well as to improve national capacities for open and collaborative research, especially in developing countries and low- and middle-income countries.

The WHO Director-General was also directed to analyze the availability of clinical trial data and price information, with the possibility of establishing a web-based tool to share such information to improve the transparency of markets for health products, including investments, incentives and subsidies.
The countries that proposed the resolution included: Andorra, Brazil, Egypt, Eswatini, Greece, India, Italy, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Portugal, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

Other European and Nordic countries, including Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Norway, as well as Australia and Canada, expressed their support for the resolution.

But a small group of powerful countries also opposed the resolution and pushed to weaken some of the provisions in earlier versions of the resolution.

Gaelle Krikorian, head of policy at the Access Campaign at Doctors Without Borders (MSF), praised the adoption of the resolution as a “welcome first step” but also said that transparency on drug prices “is not enough. We need to know the mark-ups corporations charge, production costs, the cost of clinical trials, how much investment is really covered by companies, and how much is underwritten by taxpayers and non-profit groups. The resolution passed today lacks strong norms and actions on these critical elements of transparency.”

Krikorian explained how the UK, Germany, US and Japan did not support the resolution and “chose to place the interests of a handful of corporations above the interests of people.

“While earlier drafts of the resolution included clear language to bring more transparency to this opaque area, unfortunately a small group of countries strongly objected and obstructed more concrete advances …There can be no fair and affordable prices without fair negotiations, and fair negotiations are impossible without transparency,” she said.

James Love, director of the nongovernmental organization Knowledge Ecology International, who has been working on this resolution for the past four months, told Focus via email from Geneva that the US supported price transparency, but opposed further transparency on research and development (R&D) costs, which he said were “the toughest issue,” or any cost data. 

“The US was constructive in some areas, and that was appreciated, and helped isolate Germany, who walked out of the negotiations. Germany and the UK were the worst,” he added.

Love also said WHO work to decide when next to take up the issue of price and cost transparency is ongoing. And he said he heard Italy recently asked Novartis and Gilead for more information on their CAR-T treatment clinical trial costs.
WHO Resolution


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Tags: KEI, MSF, transparency, WHO

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