Pharmaceutical industry still failing health needs of less-developed countries

November 14, 2002

The third article about the role of the pharmaceutical industry in medicine--The Pharmaceutical Industry as a Medicines Provider--is published in this week's issue of THE LANCET.

David Henry from the University of Newcastle, Australia, and Joel Lexchin from the University of Toronto, Canada, discuss how rising prices of medicines are putting them beyond the reach of many people, even in rich countries. In less-developed countries, they state, millions of individuals do not have access to essential drugs, and drug development is failing to address the major health needs of these countries. The authors also comment how the prices of patented medicines usually far exceed the marginal costs of their production -- while the industry maintains that high prices and patent protection are necessary to compensate for high development costs of innovative products, there are doubts about the figures that form the basis of these claims.

David Henry comments: "The international pharmaceutical industry manufactures and distributes many good drugs, displays generosity in its philanthropic activities, and has an important role in maintenance of manufacturing standards. However, evidence shows that companies have shifted their core activities from discovery and development of innovative drugs to marketing of products that keep profit to a maximum in high-income countries."

He adds: "Access to important drugs by low-income countries is generally agreed to remain grossly inadequate. Some international manufacturers have responded to this crisis by sharp reductions in prices of some products and by donations. These moves largely seem to have been in response to external pressures, especially bad publicity and generic competition, rather than initiatives of the companies themselves. Restoration of true market forces and fair pricing of drugs is a better long term solution to shortages than 'ad hoc' donations. These issues are particularly relevant and timely as the World Trade Organisation is holding a ministerial meeting in Sydney and improving access to affordable essential medicines is an crucial item on their agenda."

Joel Lexchin concludes: "Improved access to patented drugs could be enhanced by widespread voluntary licensing arrangements with the growing number of pharmaceutical companies in developing countries and freer trade between countries with varying amounts of manufacturing capacity, by removing export restrictions on some generic drugs. The knowledge and technical expertise of international companies could help to guarantee the quality and appropriate use of these drugs."
-end-
Contact: Professor David Henry, Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Clinical Sciences Building,
University of Newcastle, Newcastle Mater Hospital,
Waratah, NSW 2298, Australia;
T) 61-249-211-856;
F) 61-249-602-088;
home 61 249 505576;
mobile 61 4192 84883;
E) mddah@mail.newcastle.edu.au

Lancet

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