Question and debate in EP (16-9-2014) on high prices of life-saving medicines

Oral Question posed by French MEP Michelle Rivasi (Greens)

Access to medicines has repeatedly made the headlines in many EU countries over the past 3 months (in France, the UK, Spain, Greece, etc.). The reason for that is the price charged for Sofosbuvir, a drug that can cure hepatitis C. It is sold by the pharmaceutical firm Gilead, which charges generally between 50 000 and 60 000 euros per patient for a 12 weeks course in the Eurozone.

The situation with Sofosbuvir is urgent, but unfortunately it is not an isolated case. This level of prices not only is a new trend but it is becoming a new norm for serious diseases. As a consequence, we, for example, see how it is becoming harder and harder to ensure access to drugs to cancer patients in Europe. It is happening with Kadcyla® a drug for breast cancer, for Nexavar® a drug for kidney and liver cancer. And we are all affected, or soon will be.

The less innovation the pharmaceutical industry brings to the market, the more it prices the new drugs. Abuses of monopoly rights and patents is harming innovation and crushing health systems. We are seeing doctors and medical authorities forced to compromise their professional code of ethics and to invent false reasons of cost-effectiveness to justify sentencing people to death.Nothing in the chain of development of these drugs justifies these prices.

Rationing of life saving medicines in Europe is not acceptable. It is high time to reform a system that is increasingly dysfunctional, and to honestly address the issue of the research and development model we need for medical innovation.

Today 10 to 15% maximum of the price of a medicine will go towards research. Is that really the most effective way to proceed? Instead of paying 100 euros to endure that 10-15 euros will go to research, citizens, communities or States could pay directly the same share for research without having to bear the cost of monopoly.

France raised the issue of Sofosbuvir at the Council and before the Commission during the Summer. What are the Council and the Commission planning on doing to break this deadlock which is becoming deadly for an increasing number of EU citizens? When will we seriously discuss options that do not necessarily please a handful of multinationals but would serve the EU public interest, such as funding mechanisms and financial incentives that are not tied to the granting of exclusive rights and monopolies? When will we impose price caps on medicines the same way we were able to do for roaming?