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Public Eye calls on Swiss Federal Council to use compulsory licensing against exorbitant drug prices

22. May 2018

Problems with access to lifesaving drugs no longer only affect developing and emerging countries. Even the Swiss healthcare system is struggling to cope with the price explosion of new treatments, in particular cancer drugs. But the Federal Council has the means to act: by resorting to a compulsory licence, it can allow cheaper generic drugs to be marketed despite the existence of a patent. With the support of the Swiss Cancer League, Public Eye is calling on Federal Councillors Berset and Schneider-Ammann to take domestic and foreign policy measures to guarantee affordable drugs and to use compulsory licences whenever necessary.

Whether someone receives the best available treatment should not come down to a question of money – neither in Switzerland, nor anywhere else. That is why today Public Eye has launched a landmark campaign ‘For affordable drugs’* and is bringing Swiss and international experts together in Geneva to discuss the issue. Patents are one of the main causes of skyrocketing drug prices. Backed by a monopoly and market exclusivity, pharma companies can essentially set prices as they please. State control mechanisms are toothless when confronted to the pricing power of pharmaceutical companies. However there is an effective way to curb this upward spiral, as can be seen in Public Eye’s ‘Protect patients, not patents’ report (PDF, 1.9 MB). By resorting to compulsory licences, the Swiss Federal Council can restore the balance between the interests of an extremely profitable industry and public health needs.

Compulsory licensing is an instrument provided by international patent law (the TRIPS agreements). They enable WTO member states to authorise a third party (for example a manufacturer of generic drugs) to produce and market a similar product even in the presence of a patent. However, whenever developing or emerging countries make use of this legal mechanism to ensure their people’s access to essential treatment, they come under severe pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and the countries in which these companies are headquartered. In Colombia and Thailand, the Swiss authorities have supported aggressive lobbying carried out by large Basel-based companies against the issuance of compulsory licences.

This excessive protection of patents, as advocated by Switzerland on a global scale, also has negative consequences on patients in our country. We saw this recently with the case of Hepatitis C, where the authorities decided to ration access to a treatment that was innovative but very expensive, initially only guaranteeing reimbursement coverage for patients severely ill. The prices of cancer drugs are rising particularly sharply and we now often see treatments costing over CHF 100,000 per patient, per year. In 2016, over one of every five Swiss francs spent for the mandatory health insurance was spent on drugs – and this proportion rises every year.

In a joint appeal , Public Eye and the Swiss Cancer League are calling on the Federal Council to unambiguously recognise compulsory licensing as legal, legitimate and effective tools. Resorting to this tool in a country where major pharmaceutical corporations are headquartered would ensure a sustainable healthcare system in Switzerland while sending a strong signal to the international community, motivating other countries to follow suit. This would open the door to access to essential drugs for millions of people.

*Dedicated campaign website is available in French and German.

Click here for more information or contact:
Oliver Classen, Media Director, +41 44 277 79 06, oliver.classen[at]publiceye.ch
Patrick Durisch, Health Policy Expert, +41 21 620 03 06, patrick.durisch[at]publiceye.ch

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