TTIP: Will it impact prices and access to medicines?

During the last TTIP negotiation round in July in Brussels, I got the chance to join the Chief negotiators’ briefing to stakeholders. Even though everyone was ready for the summer break, I felt like there was a renewed positive energy during this 10th round. I had a feeling negotiations were progressing, and the negotiators fully committed to have the “deal done” during the Obama administration. But this was followed by a very quiet August in Brussels, and I wondered if this optimism would still be there in September.

My first dive back into TTIP was a different kind of event. Not the usual conference or meeting. Instead, a live Q&A on Twitter dedicated to TTIP & health. Organised by EFPIA, it brought together an interesting panel comprised of Lilly’s Senior Vice President and President of Lilly Bio-Medicines Dave Ricks, the President & CEO of Novo Nordisk Lars Rebien Sørensen, two academic professors: Professor David Taylor from University College London (UK) and Dr. Kristina Lybecker, Colorado College (US) as well as EFPIA’s Director-General Richard Bergström  All of them sat in different places but answering the questions tweeted by an interested public in real time.

The diversity of both the organisations and individuals that posed questions to the panel, alongside their different questions, underlined the different perspectives out there and just how crucial this trade agreement will be in healthcare for everyone.

On the live web platform you can read all of the questions and answers but here’s a snapshot of both the questions and the responses that really caught my eye:

 The European Public Health Alliance EPHA asked: “Will TTIP increase the price of pharmaceuticals by longer patent status of medicines which prevent availability of cheaper generics?”

The answer given by Lilly’s David Ricks helped tackle this concern: It is important to underscore that TTIP will not impact national governments’ decision-making powers for pricing of pharmaceuticals. The EU and US have high standards of IP protections, though they are not exactly the same. The industry has simply asked that those high standards be reconfirmed as IP is the lifeblood of our industry. We have not asked for an increase in patent terms. As we move toward the EU patent implementation we would like to see in the interim a simplification of the current patent litigation system – a type of early resolution mechanism -- as the current system is an expensive patchwork of litigation across many member states, but this would not impact patent terms.

We expect TTIP to enhance patient access to innovative medicines on both sides of the Atlantic. IP protection is not intended to hinder access to and distribution of medicines to patients. IP is about giving companies incentives to invest in researching and developing new treatment options for patients.

 Another question put forward by EPHA was as follows:  “Do you agree that pricing and reimbursement shall be excluded from #TTIP to ensure sustainable access to affordable medicines?”

Prof. Talyor’s response: No, it will not. The existing capacity of nations within the EU to – despite laws requiring the free movement of all goods throughout Europe – control the local prices payable for prescription medicines and allied products will not be affected by TTIP. What it should do is help to make processes like medicines testing and licensing less costly by reducing the need for needless duplications.

TTIP will not force either the US or any EU country to accept higher (or lower) prices for pharmaceuticals. Neither will it slow the introduction of generic medicines nor interfere with clinicians’ abilities to treat patients in the ways they judge appropriate and cost effective.

The Trans-Atlantic Business Council (TABC) asked this during the Q&A: “What is your perspective on the inclusion of a Pharmaceutical Annex in #TTIP?”

Novo Nordisk’s Lars Rebien Sørensen answered as follows : On top of securing high global standards and create greater compatibility between EU and US regulatory systems, there is also an economic argument: the Copenhagen Economics’ study shows that an ambitious TTIP agreement on pharmaceuticals could potentially create €400 million in additional exports and 1500 new jobs in Denmark alone.

David Ricks replied: An Annex on pharmaceuticals in the text of TTIP would promote fair, predictable and transparent processes for the pricing and reimbursement of pharmaceuticals, recognizing the value of innovation. Such an Annex can already be found in the EU-Korea and KORUS FTAs, promoting best practices. It is also important to note that the EU already has a transparency directive aimed at addressing the same issues - an annex would reconfirm commitment to those principles.

The final question I want to flag was one put forward by Adrian van den Hoven, Director General, EGA (European Generic Medicines Association), who asked “How can regulatory cooperation between EU and US safeguard the existing high regulatory standards in the EU and US?

Here is a quote from Dave Rick’s response: Maintaining a high standard of safety in our systems is in all of our best interests. However, many of the current differences in our regulatory approaches do nothing to increase safety – they are just an increased cost – a de-facto tax on innovation.

What’s next?

After last week’s political stocktaking between EU Trade Commissioner Malmström and US Trade Representative Froman, both agreed on the need to accelerate discussions by organizing technical meetings between the formal rounds. The next formal negotiation round will take place in the week of 13 October in Miami.   I welcome this commitment, as it means for me the positive spirit is still there – and that these technical meetings will also advance discussions on healthcare issues in TTIP.

What I’m looking forward to next is the WTO Public Forum “Trade Works” in Geneva this week. While everything in Brussels is currently about TTIP, I’m looking forward to getting a fresh perspective on free trade from a global level.  Stay tuned to read my take on it afterwards.