We refuse to let the pharmaceutical industry dictate price of cancer drugs".
This is what the Minister of Health here in Norway said to Norwegian newspaper VG yesterday when asked why Norway is one of the two countries in Europe (Portugal is the other) that is not offering quite a revolutionary cancer drug, Perjeta, that has shown great results allowing women with breast cancer to live for years longer than without the drug.
Now of course you cannot put a price on human life, and in Norway is one of the richest countries in the world so we should just pay up, right? Or should we? I'm not going to answer that cause I don't feel I have enough knowledge on it but what I noticed, and the reason I mention this case here, is that this don't seem to be about the price alone. Part of the problem is that the pharmaceutical company selling the drug is trying to land individual deals with all countries, with no one knowing what other countries pay. This is not how it's been done before... earlier countries of similar wealth have gotten the same deals, and we've been aware of and accepted that we, as a rich country, have to pay more. Keeping the pricing secret seems like an attempt to squeeze even more money out of the richest countries, and I believe this is one of the issues the Norwegian health department now has with these new contracts. This is a good example of how much power the pharmaceutical industry has. Media is giving the politicians a hard time about this case, telling stories about women in Sweden who gets to live and women in Norway who is not getting the same treatment, and by doing so they give Big Pharma even more power. With pricing a secret it's also pretty hard for the politicians to explain this to the people. Even though we do have a lot here in Norway, there is a limit, and we have to prioritize. Again, you can't really put a price on human life, but what do you do when giving a woman with breast cancer one more year to live costs so much that you have to close down other lifesaving facilities to afford it?
As I said, I don't feel I have enough insight in the matter to say if we're doing the right thing here, but I feel that the pharmaceutical company behind Perjeta is getting away with this to easily. Politicians and health officials are getting the blame and being pointed out as the greedy ones, but there are other greedy parts in this matter as well, and there is also some other important questions here: Isn't the pharmaceutical industry powerful enough already? What happens the next time if we allow for such secrecy around pricing now? Are the pharmaceutical companies using the pressure on politicians and their power to influence decision makers to make decisions that will protect their own economical interests? By now you might have guessed where I'm going with this... and why I wanted to show this example of Big Pharma's power.
Cause there is something really not making sense when I get my daily google news searches: Scientists keep doing research on e-cigarettes and vaping and the evidence proving that e-cigs are orders of magnitude safer than smoking to the user, pose no harm to bystanders, do not lure teenagers into tobacco smoking and have the potential to save millions of lives, keeps piling up. But still I get articles every single day about another country or state banning or over-regulating vaping. Why? Virtually all the evidence available points in one direction... why are the politicians, the WHO and the EU going in opposite one? This whole thing smells of rotten eggs...
We're lucky here in Norway because we have SIRUS (The Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research) and Karl Erik Lund working hard to convince the government to do choose the right direction. They've recently written an answer to a request for input by the Norwegian Health department to the following question: "We need your input on how we can make it easier to motivate people to take the healthy choices, so that we can prevent people from dying prematurely and getting unnecessarily sick?" SIRUS answered with a long article on the principles of harm reduction and how this can be applied to fight the tobacco epidemic. You can read the whole thing here (in Norwegian, Google might do a good job translating). Their main point is that we need to give harm reducing products, like e-cigarettes, the opportunity to compete with and ideally out-compete the deadly tobacco cigarettes. And maybe we are even more lucky... could the case with the breast cancer drug I started out with show us that our politicians will not accept just anything Big Pharma throws at them?
Meanwhile in Denmark... the picture is a lot darker. It looks like their politicians have decided to get rid of e-cigarettes as we know them as soon as in November this year. The draft for a new law on vaping looks to me at first glance (I haven't really read the whole thing) like the TPD. But it also looks like they want a 6 month total ban on all e-cigarettes and e-juice, cause they demand that all products need to be registered 6 months before being put on the market... and the registration does not open until the law is implemented. So why does this happen so fast in Denmark? Well... this might be what we get if we let the pharmaceutical industry get to powerful: http://vapingiraffe.blogspot.no/2014/04/danish-health-and-medicines-authority.html
Vaping and e-cigarettes have the potential to solve a huge health problem without the interference of the pharmaceutical industry. In fact it might even reduce the power of Big Pharma quite substantially as well... if our politicians have the balls to make it happen!
photo credit: Man using an electronic cigarette / Vaping E Cig via photopin (license)