Five reasons Sturgeon should stand up to Big Pharma

24 May 2018

Breast cancer drug pertuzamab (brand name ‘Perjeta’) has been in the headlines. NHS patients here in Scotland are not currently able to access the drug – yet it is now available to patients in England and Wales.

Newspaper headlines suggest this is a ‘postcode lottery’, but is the availability of a life-prolonging cancer drug really a matter of luck? While we can’t chose where we are born, pharmaceutical companies can choose how much they charge for a drug. In fact, the massively inflated prices the drugs company Roche charges for Perjeta, despite making sales worth £1.44 billion from the drug in 2016 alone, was a deliberate choice. The high price of this drug is the reason it has been rejected by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC). Our NHS simply cannot afford the ever-increasing prices that pharmaceutical companies are charging for new medicines.

Together with patient campaign group, Just Treatment we are petitioning the Scottish government to issue a compulsory license that will mean ‘Perjeta’ can be sold at a lower price.

Here are five reasons you should support the campaign:

1. More than 400 patients in Scotland who might benefit from this breast cancer drug do not have access to it

Breast cancer sufferer, Dunise McIver who is from Scotland but living in England so has access to the drug, has talked about having to make the difficult choice to have her treatment in England, and so miss out on support from family and friends living in Scotland. It seems very unfair that patients just across the border from one another, who pay the same taxes, nevertheless do not have the same access to life-saving treatment. Watch a film about Dunise here

2. Taxpayers funded the basic research behind this drug

The basic discovery that was used to develop pertuzamab was funded by the UK Medical Research Council which is in turn funded by the taxes we pay. So, as taxpayers, we pay twice – first for the initial development, and then to buy back the drug at massively inflated prices.

3. Roche are making a killing from this drug

Pertuzumab generated sales for Roche of £1.44 billion in 2016 alone and these sales are expected to grow to £3.5 billion a year by 2020. In the same year the Chief Executive of Roche, Severin Schwan, received a pay package of £8.9 million. So can Roche really justify these high prices that mean breast cancer patients in Scotland are denied access to the best treatment for their life-threatening condition? It seems to definitely be a case of profit before people.

4. To show solidarity with campaigners around the world fighting for affordable medicines to save lives

Across the world, the high price of medicines is literally costing people their lives. Last year, we were visited by Sibongile Tschabalala, Deputy Chairperson of Treatment Action Campaign. Sibongile is HIV positive, and in the early 2000s fought for access to expensive retro-viral drugs that now allow her to be able to live a normal life despite her condition. Now Treatment Action Campaign are leading the fight for access to another breast cancer drug manufactured by Roche – trastuzamab or Herceptin – that is unaffordable to ordinary South Africans. Our campaign needs to send a strong message to Roche, in solidarity with South African campaigners, that making life-saving drugs unaffordable to ordinary people is unacceptable. Roche must put people’s health first.

5. The right of governments around the world to use a compulsory licenses in order to access over-priced essential medicines is totally legal and needs defending

A compulsory license is a right enshrined in an international trade agreement that enables a government to allow another company to make the patented drug without consent from the patent holder. We are calling on Nicola Sturgeon to use a Crown Use License, which is a type of compulsory license, in order to allow other companies to produce the same drug as Perjeta at a cheaper price. At the moment, Roche has a patent for Perjeta meaning that other companies are not able to manufacture the drug for maybe another 10 years. Governments around the world have used compulsory licenses but pharmaceutical companies don’t like it, and have been known to bully governments, threatening them with international investment arbitration, or other trade retaliations.

If the first minister were to set in motion a Crown Use License for this much-needed breast cancer drug, it would send a strong message to other countries considering compulsory licensing for other drugs, that this is a necessary step that governments must take if they feel that a medicine is unaffordable. It would be an action taken in solidarity with countries who face a constant battle to find the public funds for essential, life-saving medicines.

Adding your name to the petition will help send a strong message to Nicola Sturgeon that this really is an issue that is important to people in Scotland.


Photo by TBIT via Pixabay


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