What price medicine? A non-Brussels perspective on the EU’s role in shaping medicine prices.

High price medicines picture (2)As part of our Healthy Thinking Series, on Tuesday 05 May FTI Consulting organised a debate on the role of the EU in the pricing and procurement of medicines. In order to broaden our perspective and move away from what can often be a technical debate we invited two speakers from outside the Brussels bubble, Rohit Malpani, Director of Policy and Analysis at Médecins Sans Frontières, and David Taylor, Professor of Pharmaceutical and Public Health Policy at University College London’s School of Pharmacy.

What came across clearly was that two years ago we wouldn’t even have been having this conversation in Brussels, in part because of the deep complexity of the issue, but also because the debate can become quickly emotive, making it more difficult to articulate the argument in the public arena.

The debate covered the entire pharmaceutical value chain and analysed the role of the EU at each stage. There was general agreement that the EU could contribute to further stimulating innovation via mechanisms such as IP protection, market exclusivity extensions for certain products (eg covering rare diseases), public-private partnerships to unlock knowledge gaps, and research grants. Some argued that such incentives do not always translate into lower prices that can boost patient access, and that EU policies should be adapted to introduce conditions on the price of medicines.

Participants welcomed recent efforts of the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) Adaptive Pathways pilot project, which seeks to speed up the time to a medicine’s approval and reimbursement for targeted patient groups. The EMA hopes to achieve this by balancing the importance of timely patient access with the need for adequate, evolving information on a medicine’s benefits and risks. Some participants also emphasised the importance of the inclusion of Health Technology Assesment (HTA) bodies in the project to ensure that early-approved products are affordable at the national level.

The role of EU towards the end of the value chain stimulated a lively debate. Some argued that the EU should promote greater comparative price transparency between member states, whereas others felt that net price confidentiality is needed to guarantee differential pricing across the EU that reflects the purchasing powers of different countries and thereby supports patient access. Participants felt that the EU does not have clear competence in joint procurement and that it should rather focus its efforts on improving the pharmaceutical value chain where it is best placed to do so. Namely, on the supply side, through better incentive systems for research into critical disease areas, and by continuing to encourage competition in the market.

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