Challenging the corporate control of medicines: 10 highlights

Challenging the corporate control of medicines: 10 highlights


By: Eleanor Williams
Date: 8 October 2018
Campaigns: Pharma

Amazingly it’s one year on from the launch of our pharmaceuticals campaign. Time has flown, but together, we’ve achieved a lot. A huge thank you to all our supporters, members and local groups for challenging the corporate control of medicines. Here are our top ten campaign highlights our activists can feel proud of:

1. Exposing pharmaceutical companies’ greed

Our ‘Pills and Profits’ report, published last October, exposes how corporations are scandalously buying up medicines developed using public funds and selling them back to the NHS. We grabbed the media’s attention by showing how the public are paying twice for essential treatment. A highlight was the BBC Radio 5 Live programme, ‘Investigates’ covering our work.

2. Raising awareness across the UK

I hope you could make it to one of our nine speaker tour events called ‘Sick of Corporate Greed’. South African activist Sibongile Tshabalala headed up the sessions with her hugely inspiring, personal account of fighting for access to HIV medicines with Treatment Action Campaign.

3. Handing the Department for Health a giant key

Over Christmas our supporters kindly donated to help take on the high prices of medicines set by corporations. They also took action by writing to Jeremy Hunt MP using our key-shaped action cards. In February we handed a giant key in to the Department of Health to demand they unlock access to vital medicines for people not profit.

4. Challenging corporate giant Novartis

Earlier this year, our campaigning allies in Colombia  informed us that Novartis had engaged in bullying tactics with the Colombian government. All because it tried to use international trade rules to make the corporation’s leukaemia cancer drug affordable. Along with our supporters, thousands of people quickly signed a global petition to protest Novartis’ bullying tactics. Activists in Geneva handed Novartis the petition at its AGM. Meanwhile we did a stunt outside Novartis’ UK headquarters, as did our allies in South Africa and Malaysia. This was an incredible international mobilisation against corporate power that our supporters helped achieve.

5. Raising awareness locally

Over the summer ten of our activist groups spread the word in their local area about how the corporate control of medicines is stopping people from accessing vital treatment. From Rotherham to Oxford, our groups got the public taking action and playing our innovative game to guess shocking corporate price hikes. Thanks to our local groups we’re getting more members of the public behind the fight for affordable medicines.

6. Demanding the Scottish government takes action against big business

The pharmaceutical giant Roche is charging so much for the breast cancer drug perjeta that NHS Scotland simply can’t afford it. In June, 5,000 supporters demanded the Scottish government uses international trade rules to force Roche to lower the price. Our campaigners in Scotland have also been lobbying the government health ministers with patient campaigners, Just Treatment. The Scottish Medical Council is due to meet with Roche this autumn. And once we’ve heard the outcome we will be planning next steps to keep up the pressure on the Scottish government to use their legal right to procure cheaper drugs.

7. Taking to the streets: NHS at 70

Under the baking hot sun at the end of June, we marched across London with thousands of protesters to celebrate the NHS and oppose cuts to funding. Holding our placards high, we drew attention to how corporations’ eye-watering drugs prices are eating up NHS funds.

8. Building the movement with international allies

Heidi Chow, our pharmaceuticals campaigner, attended a European conference on the research and development of medicines in June. At this conference, she heard how our joint report with STOPAIDS, Pills and Profits, had inspired other campaigners to do a similar investigation in Spain, Netherlands and Belgium. This means more exposure of how big business is taking over drugs developed using public funds, and then forcing the public to pay twice for essential medicines.  We also recently heard that the EU had agreed to fund a pilot project on public return on public investments in health research, which is a great win for the European movement that we have been a part of.

9. Lobbying government

Throughout the year we have been working with the Missing Medicines Coalition to meet and lobby MPs and the government, including the Department of Health. We have been highlighting the problems corporations create in access to medicines and pushing politicians to adopt our recommendations. We’ve seen strong support from leaders of the opposition.

10. What’s next? Building the alternative

We are in the final stages of our new report on how we can take more public control over the development and production of medicines. Thanks to our supporters donating this spring we’ve been able to work with the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Stop Aids and Just Treatment on these concrete policies.

None of this would be possible without ordinary people taking action, supporting our work, raising awareness and more. Now with the launch of our new report around the corner, we can push for real alternatives that put people’s health first.