This week, the Swiss NGO Public Eye, launched a campaign for more affordable medicine in Switzerland under the slogan: protect patients, not patents.
The NGO says high prices, of cancer drugs in particular, is not only an issue affecting developing nations but wealthy ones too. It says that cancer treatments in Switzerland often cost over CHF 100,000 a year.
Public Eye’s proposed cure is compulsory licensing, an international patent law mechanism that allows lower priced generic drugs to be sold along side patented branded ones. Sometimes successfully used in developing countries, despite pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, Public Eye wants it deployed in Switzerland too.
Thomas Cueni, Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, tried to defend drug makers in an interview on RTS, Switzerland’s public broadcaster. He describes compulsory licensing as too simplistic. In response to a question on reducing margins on drugs, given huge industry profits and bonuses, such as the CHF 72 million one initially awarded to the head of Novartis in 2013, he pointed to the medical progress and increase in life expectancy that have occurred over the past 50 years.
According to the newspaper 20 Minutes, Alain Berset, Switzerland’s president, admitted that effort needed to made to improve access to generics.
There is an additional challenge to generic drug pricing in Switzerland. Prices of generics are set by reference to their branded equivalents. This results in generic prices higher than across the rest of Europe. Switzerland’s price watchdog estimates annual savings of CHF 400 million if a reference price set at the cost of the lowest priced generic drug was introduced and applied to compulsory insurance reimbursements in Switzerland.
20 Minutes article (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
Public Eye press release (in English)
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