Ministry calls on WHO to look into drug pricing


KUALA LUMPUR: Amidst pressure against Malaysia for using compulsory licensing (CL) to gain access to generic versions of a Hepatitis C drug, the Health Ministry has urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to look into the pricing system of medicine by big pharmaceutical companies.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye (pic) said while Malaysia could exercise the rights provided for under the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the scope is limited to government use only.

“Even though we have a strong ground to exercise the right, the Health Ministry, the Health Minister, myself, (Pharmaceutical Service Programme senior director) Dr Ramli Zainal, the Prime Minister, Economic Affairs Minister get frequent calls from pharmaceutical companies, the United States’ ambassador and the US Trade Representative.

“You can see the pressure mounting on us. I hope the international community could look at how pharmaceutical companies price their medicine,” he said at the forum on Improving Access to Affordable Cancer Treatments in Malaysia yesterday.

Dr Lee, who was one of the panellists, said many cancer drugs had been developed in recent decades but capitalism also had its ugly side where drugs were priced based on the amount consumers could bear rather than on investments put in, as done in the past.

“We may think rich countries subsidise lower income countries but some drug prices in the private sector are comparable or higher than those in advanced countries. There is an anomaly in terms of pricing,” he said.

Dr Lee said he was not a socialist and recognised that capitalism drove innovation but the “profit and loss” balance sheet system of rewarding innovators should be reviewed, especially for the medical fraternity.

He said in the past, there had been plenty of advances in medicine because the medical fraternity shared information without reward.

“This part of it is philosophical. I put it to WHO to look into how the system works. We need a more sustainable pricing system from the international pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

During the forum, Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA) vice-president Allen Patino said countries should come up with a single-payer system as pharmaceutical companies would be more willing to offer lower prices to single players.

According to Statnews Feb 14 report, Italy proposed to WHO to set international standards for drug-pricing transparency.

The Italian government was asking the World Health Assembly to adopt a resolution that would require drug makers to disclose their R&D and production costs, as well as prices charged for medicines and vaccines.

Meanwhile, head of Mission and WHO Representative to Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore Dr Lo Ying-Ru Jacqueline said that the WHO had been working on price transparency issues.

“The WHO has prepared a technical report which will be presented to member states to consider at the World Health Assembly in May,” she said.