There is a “tendency to exaggerate the uniqueness of the pharmaceutical industry, in order to justify special treatment from policymakers and authorities”, the European Association of Euro-Pharmaceutical Companies (EAEPC) has told the European Commission.

“Given the importance of the pharmaceutical sector, policymakers rightly put the industry’s competitiveness and innovative capacity high on their agenda,” says the EAEPC, the trade association which represents parallel importers, in its response to the Commission’s public consultation on the future of the European Union (EU) single market for pharmaceuticals. However, the group adds, this “tendency to exaggerate” the sector’s uniqueness is especially true in the area of competition policy, “where manufacturers often argue that prices of medicines are set by government, and EU competition policy should therefore be applied differently, or not at all.”

Governments obviously have a role when it comes to determining the prices of reimbursed medicines; as in any market, the buyer has a say in price negotiations, says the EAEPC. However, so do the manufacturers, it adds, “especially in the pharmaceutical sector where producers enjoy a monopoly in any given market for a patented medicine.”

The parallel trade group goes on to claim that the same tendency to exaggerate exists in the context of discussions on R&D and patient safety. While pharmaceutical manufacturers rightly enjoy long periods of patent protection to incentivise investments in innovation, “this must not give them the right to abuse market dominance or engage in other anti-competitive practices,” it says. The group acknowledges that manufacturers are rightly concerned about patient safety and counterfeit medicines but, it says, “this does not justify abusing the counterfeit debate to tarnish legitimate competitors such as wholesalers and parallel distributors.”

The EAEPC has also hit out at the most recent example of what it sees as such abuse – the publication last week of a report from the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM), which claims that parallel pharmaceutical trade (PPT) represents “a clear and present danger to the safety of every European patient”. In the report, which has been presented to the European Parliament, author Jonathan Harper alleges that parallel traders’ practice of repacking and relabelling medicines undermines supply chain security, and says there is evidence of PPT being an entry point of counterfeit medicines in to the legitimate supply chain.

Describing the EAASM as an “un-transparent, industry-funded ‘patient safety alliance’,” EAEPC secretary general Heinz Kobelt says the report makes no contribution to the patient safety debate and is about discrediting the “legitimate and safe practice of EU-internal distribution of medicines which introduces price competition for manufacturers.” The “black propaganda” contained within the report risks distracting policymakers and the public from the real threats to patient health, such as illegal internet sales of medicines, according to Dr Kobelt and, he adds: “we would suggest that [Dr Harper] at least speak to or visit a parallel distributor before writing his next report on parallel trade."