by Peter O'Donnell
BRUSSELS, 18 April (APM) - The Euripid stakeholder meeting in mid-April in Brussels has won a cautious welcome from civil society groups, but comments are lacking so far from both the organisers and the drug industry as they reflect on the next steps.
Billed as the first step in a new phase of international collaboration on drug pricing (APMHE 62574
), the Euripid initiative brought together a wide cross-section of health-sector interests to explore how patient access might be improved.
But a week later, neither of the two principal players - the pricing authorities and the drug industry - has been ready to comment on the outcome.
Non-governmental organisations have been more forthcoming., however.
The exercise has "huge potential", said Anna Prokupkova, policy officer at the Association of European Cancer Leagues, an organisation strongly in favour of more transparency for pricing as a way to win access to more affordable medicines.
But she said it was not yet clear exactly how the platform would proceed in view of widely differing viewpoints of the stakeholders involved.
The conclusion was that there would be another meeting "later in 2019", she said, adding that at present the next steps seemed "a bit vague"
Civil society groups and public health organisations were keen on widening Euripid's current database to include net prices rather than, as at present, merely official list prices, she told APM.
There was strong resistance from drug industry representatives to the concept, she added.
Another patient representative told APM that despite a lively face-off between industry and civil society during the meeting, there was consensus among all participants that the platform should indeed be established and continue to function.
"It remains to be seen if it works", the patient spokesperson added.
"Transparency is coming"
For Tim Reed, executive director of Health Action International, the meeting crystallised a growing trend in discussions of drug pricing.
"Transparency about drug prices is coming like a tsunami - whether industry realises it or not," he told APM.
He cited the pressures that were evident at the recent WHO meeting on drug prices (APMHE 62656
), and the upcoming debates on the subject at the May World Health Assembly (APMHE 62234
In his view, the days of industry hiding its real costs while presenting a façade of 'partnership' with other stakeholders are now at an end.
The question of drug prices is a major public interest, and so too is the return that society gets from the profits of the private companies that benefit from publicly-funded research, he said.
European governments are at last starting to recognise this, and industry is "going to have to get used to it".
Who are the stakeholders?
For Reed, industry has no place in this stakeholder platform. He accepts that dialogue is needed among stakeholders with similar objectives - patients, civil society, governments, payers - but "does this need industry?", he demanded.
"Industry has diametrically opposed ideas. The goals are conflicting: cash versus public health".
Nor does he see the emergence of regional collaborations among health ministries and pricing authorities as a solution. The Beneluxia cooperation is not radically different from the current situation of bilateral price negotiations: "They are still playing essentially the same game", he said.
He told APM that it was not enough for just a few member states to band together to provide a counterweight to private industry.
To be effective, the EU should be taking the initiative on a genuinely Europe-wide collaboration among governments and institutions.
He sees the impending changes in the European Parliament and European Commission as offering hope for some more adventurous policy in this area.
The European pharmaceutical industry has made no public comment on the meeting - save for EFPIA's confirmation to APM that it did offer to host the next meeting of the stakeholder platform, which is tentatively scheduled for November.
The European Commission declined to comment, saying its role was limited to hosting the meeting.
"The meeting was organised by the Euripid collaboration", it said.
However, Sylvain Giraud, the responsible Commission official, did say: "My impression is that the meeting was a useful occasion for exchanging views."
Euripid was unable to supply any further information. Claudia Habl, secretary general of the Euripid executive committee, said only: "The meeting was successful, with vivid discussions."
She said she would discuss with colleagues whether to provide any follow-up, but "not until after the Easter vacation".