March 18, 2013 | By Márcio Barra
The Financial Times is reporting that Essential Inventions, a US-based lobby group, is petitioning Andreas Lykourentzos, Greece’s health minister, to implement compulsory license agreements on expensive drugs, similar to the ones carried out by India, but with a twist, which would allow for cheaper, generic versions of the drugs to be acquired from suppliers in India and Canada and be commercialized in Greece (this is different than what India does, as it makes their own generics with local companies like Cipla on the basis of Compulsory license Agreements) .
A modest royalty would be paid to the patent holders in exchange.
As Mr Lykourentzosis currently being pressed by Greece’s international creditors to implement more drug expenditure cuts, which could lead to increase parallel export (although it is now forbidden in some cases in Greece) and even more drug shortages in essential medicines like oncology drugs, it wouldn’t be shocking if Greece’s health ministry implemented Compulsory Licensing Agreements.
Essential inventions stated that it’s compulsory license agreement proposal is simpler than trying to negotiate price cuts with patent holders, as they are concerned that further price cuts could be followed elsewhere in Europe or create even more parallel export of cheap drugs to other EU countries.
Greece is currently one of the most affected countries in Europe by the European debt crisis, if not the most. With currently 26% (!) of the population unemployed, the Greek government is hard at work looking into ways of easing up the burden of drug expenditure on the Greece medical system, while making medicines more affordable to the general population. It’s a similar strategy to the one employed by Portugal, except in Portugal it’s not through compulsory license agreements, but through state mandated drug price cuts. In the case of Portugal it’s acting as a double edged sword, as it’s driving the local pharmaceutical industry away. As Portugal practices some of the lowest prices in Europe, it is becoming a more and more attractive place for parallel export situations, causing drug shortages. A representative from Portuguese National authority, Infarmed, stated to me a little while ago that this was not only due to parallel export to other EU countries, but also because of exportation to lusophone (Portuguese speaking) African Countries.
Drug shortages are also occurring in Greece, with patients complaining of drug shortages in both pharmacies and hospitals. Wholesalers and pharmacies nationwide were accused by the Greek health ministry of increasing drug exports to higher paying countries, such as Germany, leaving the population empty-handed. In reply, pharmacists have declared that this is a necessary measure for pharmacies to have profit in the current economic crisis.
It is worth noting parallel export of drugs has been forbidden in Greece since October, and the parallel export of more 34 innovative medicines was forbidden back in January.