SECOND OPINION | The secret world of drug prices, and more of this week’s health news – Health

Hello and happy Saturday! Here’s Second Opinion, our roundup of the week’s interesting and eclectic news in health and medical science.

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Ending the secrecy behind high drug prices

Secrecy is one of the biggest barriers to tackling unaffordable drugs, World Health Organization officials said. This week the WHO invited more than 200 government and industry representatives to Amsterdam for a fair-pricing forum to come up with a global strategy to fight high prices.

“More transparency is absolutely vital,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general with the WHO. “At present we have little transparency on what inputs actually make up the decision to price the medicine. Nor do we have evidence of the true cost of R&D and of who actually pays for it.”

Kieny called on countries to start sharing their drug price secrets to give them more leverage in negotiations with the world’s pharmaceutical giants. Right now, health officials in one country don’t know how much other countries are paying, because companies negotiate with each government separately and then swear officials to secrecy.  

Fair prices do not necessarily mean low prices, Kieny said, because if prices are too low companies will stop making the drug and simply leave the market, making the accessibility problem worse.

The WHO forum established a clear goal for world drug prices: “A reasonable return on investment in exchange for an affordable price, one that does not bankrupt health systems and other payers.” That goal is aimed at sustaining the pharmaceutical sector and still allowing universal access to medicine.

Maker of ‘world’s most expensive drug’ raided 

Alexion Pharmaceuticals, producer of what has been dubbed the world’s most expensive drug, was in the news this week after Brazilian police raided the company’s Sao Paulo office.

Canadians might recognize Alexion as the company that tried to sue Ottawa after a federal agency accused it of charging too much for Soliris, the only drug available to treat a rare blood disease. Soliris can cost more than half a million dollars per patient per year.

Brazilian authorities are investigating whether Alexion covered the legal costs for patients trying to force the Brazilian government to pay for Soliris. In Brazil, patients can sometimes get access to expensive drugs through the courts.

Alexion told us by email that it provides support to patient groups in Brazil in the form of unrestricted grants. The company also said it is co-operating with the Brazilian authorities on the investigation.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, there’s still no decision in the original fight between Alexion and Canada’s drug regulator, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board. Closing arguments were heard in mid-April and now both sides are awaiting the decision.

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