Current R&D Causes High Prices In Drugs; New Model Needed To Make Drugs More Affordable, Speakers Say 01/02/2019 by Sinfah Tunsarawuth for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)BANGKOK, Thailand – The current research and development model may encourage innovation in medicines, but has caused drugs to become unaffordable and inaccessible for people, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries, panellists and participants at a major conference here said. Panellists at the side meeting on R&D of NCD medicines Speakers at the meeting have suggested ideas and proposals in hope to make drugs more affordable and accessible for patients, with many talking about more involvement by the public sector in research and development. They were discussing at a side meeting of Prince Mahidol Award Conference (PMAC) 2019, which is an annual international conference focusing on policy-related health issues, as said on its website. The theme of this year’s conference is “The Political Economy of NCDs: A Whole of Society Approach”. NCDs stands for non-communicable diseases, which includes issues like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease. PMAC 2019 says on its website of this year’s general objective as “to identify major bottlenecks, root causes and propose solutions at national and global level to accelerate implementation of NCD prevention and control.” A panel at the conference held on 30 January was entitled, “Research & development of NCD medicines: how can affordability be built into the business model?” The event was moderated by Suerie Moon of the Graduate Institute Global Health Centre in Geneva. Discussions focused on how R&D could continue to produce safe and efficacious drugs while making it more affordable and accessible. Though some speakers at the side meeting took the view that the current R&D business model has caused high prices in drugs, others said it has encouraged innovation in medicines and provided incentives for private manufacturers to invest in R&D. Speakers also discussed about possible new models which could generate more affordable drugs and treatments. Jean-Michel Piedagnel, director in Southeast Asia of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), shared his organisation’s experience in a project in which collaboration between private drug producers and the governments in Malaysia and Thailand has significantly cut treatment cost of hepatitis C, which is a communicable disease. More public investment and involvement in R&D was one of the proposals made at the side meeting, but questions were raised on how the public sector could make returns on its investment. Panellists and participants discussed how to better handle the issue of incentives for R&D by private companies to reduce medicine prices. Jamie Love from Knowledge Ecology International, a non-governmental organisation based in Washington, DC, said in his presentation: “Private incentives are important for innovation, (but) lead to unequal access, and impose huge costs on society.” He suggested that to make drugs more accessible to low-income people, incentives for R&D investment have to become dissociated from drug prices. “Universal access will never be feasible without delinking of incentives from prices,” Love said in his presentation. “Delinkage will never take place without transition strategies, and this should be a focus for advocates and researchers.” Songpon Deechongkit, managing director of Siam Bioscience, a Thai company in the life sciences field with a focus on biopharmaceuticals, suggested the idea of “open innovation” in which multiple parties join hands to invent products as opposed to “closed innovation” in which companies work alone on innovation. Songpon suggested that open innovation could cut the cost of R&D and, hence, reduce the prices of drugs. There were also some hardline suggestions at the meeting, such as getting rid of the current intellectual property regime entirely. This idea arose from the conviction that patents contributed to the high prices of drugs. But others argued that intellectual property was a factor in encouraging R&D, and without the IP incentives, who would pay for the research and development. Speakers and participants also suggested that there should be more transparency in the current system and the public needed independent data and information to examine the current cost of R&D. 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