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Patients do not appreciate life-saving pharma: Bayer chief

World News | December 04, 2013


Kevin Grogan

Patients do not appreciate life-saving pharma: Bayer chief

Bayer chief executive Marjin Dekkers has expressed concern that patients do not appreciate the benefits that innovative drug research gives to society and spoke of his fears about the effect that price-squeezing is having on the pharmaceutical industry.

Speaking at the FT Global Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology conference in London, Dr Dekkers noted that while everyone knows the make of the mobile phone they use or the car they drive, patients have no idea who develops the drugs that can extend or save their lives. Furthermore, if voters do not value the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry, politicians will not either and they will continue to go for short-term fixes of price cuts.

Dr Dekkers (pictured) was speaking at a session on restoring reputation and building trust and addressed the question of transparency both in terms of the industry's dealings with doctors and opening its files on clinical data. Regarding the former, he said that educational programmes for physicians are vital to explain the benefits of complex innovative medicines, adding that "we have nothing to hide".

However, he acknowledged that when he took up the Bayer post from Thermo Fisher Scientific three years ago, and entered the pharma  sector fully, he was "shocked" by the level of off-label promotion in the industry. This is simply illegal, Dr Dekkers stressed, and "we have to have the highest standards in marketing".

In terms of data transparency, he argued about its importance but argued that all meds are reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency and their counterparts around the world. Therefore people are questioning the role of the regulators and if they do not trust the process, it suggests anger at the government rather than the drugmakers, he said, giving the example that nobody wants to see the blueprints for new planes in the aviation industry because that regulator's integrity is not questioned.
 
Moving on to access for medicines, Dr Dekkers addressed the question of Bayer's problems in India where the authorities issued its first-ever compulsory licence in 2012 allowing the company Natco to legally make and sell a low-cost version of Nexavar (sorafenib), which is used to treat kidney and liver cancer. He noted that Bayer's patent was not questioned but the move was politically motivated and amounted to "theft".

He candidly acknowledged that "Nexavar was not developed for the Indian market, let's be honest" and Bayer works on improving access to all with different pricing models for less-developed countries. However his fear is the "spillover" which will see the cheap generic being sold to affluent markets outside India.

Noting that whether rich or poor, everybody has a right to drugs that are currently on the market, he added “nobody has the right to the drugs of tomorrow”. If there is not reasonable protection of intellectual property and decent prices are not granted by governments, the present business model for innovative pharmaceutical companies will collapse as there will be poor returns on investment.

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