World Health Organization (WHO) members agreed on Tuesday to push for clearer drug pricing but stepped back from proposals by activists to force pharmaceutical firms to disclose the cost of making medicines.
Activists say drug companies can charge high prices for some medicines and governments spend too much, because they negotiate without knowing how much each drug actually costs to make.
Drug companies argue that cost information is a commercial secret. They say new drugs should be priced according to the benefits they bring to patients, regardless of production and development costs, to ensure that companies have a commercial incentive to tackle disease.
An earlier draft of the text would have given the WHO explicit powers to collect and analyze data on procurement prices and costs from clinical trials. But that wording was omitted from a draft published on Tuesday.
A WHO committee adopted the draft by consensus after a long negotiation, just in time for it to be considered by the WHO’s annual assembly, which was due to close later on Tuesday.
The agreed text of the resolution, which was initially proposed by Italy, “urges member states in accordance with their national and regional legal frameworks and contexts” to publicly share information on net prices and support dissemination and enhanced availability of data.
WHO member states would also pledge to support dissemination of information about the costs from clinical trials, if it is already publicly available or voluntarily provided, regardless of the outcome of the trial.
James Love, head of the transparency campaign group Knowledge Ecology International called the resolution a “solid start” in addressing the issue but said the text made “tortured dances around R&D costs. This will be seen by industry as language making costs data confidential information.”
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations industry lobby group was not immediately available for comment.
The deal will also mandate the WHO to monitor the impact of transparency on prices and to keep supporting governments with help on pricing transparency policies and data.
“Overall, the resolution is, as expected, weaker overall than the version from May 20 sponsors’ text, but represents an impressive statement on price transparency, at a time when nondisclosure agreements have become increasingly common,” Love said.