EB142: KEI statement on Preparation for the third High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Executive Board is expected to discuss agenda item 3.8 on Preparation for the third High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, to be held in 2018 the either on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 or Thursday, 25 January 2018.

Non-state actors in official relations with the WHO are permitted to make statements; these statements are capped at 300 words. KEI’s intervention on this item can be found below.

Knowledge Ecology International

Executive Board 142
Agenda Item: 3.8 Preparation for the third High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, to be held in 2018

The 28 page document on the High-Level Meeting on NCDs has 3 brief references to the lack of affordable drugs. “Price”, “patent” and “intellectual property” do not appear. There is no mention of new cell and gene therapies.

From 2010 to 2017, the US FDA approved 69 novel drugs to treat cancer, including 12 in 2017 alone. Most are very expensive, and access is both limited and appallingly unequal by income and geography.

In 2017 the FDA also approved two new chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies. In approving Yescarta, the FDA said:

“Today marks another milestone in the development of a whole new scientific paradigm for the treatment of serious diseases. In just several decades, gene therapy has gone from being a promising concept to a practical solution to deadly and largely untreatable forms of cancer.”

CAR T treatments are extremely expensive, and access is even more limited than the case for new oncology drugs. It is unclear if national exceptions to patent rights for medical procedures extend to CAR T, and if so, what incentives should replace the patent monopoly.

KEI encourages the WHO to give a higher profile at the meeting to treatment in general, and to the high prices and related access barriers for the drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and services that treat NCDs. If we don’t address the pricing and affordability issues, we are making a mockery of the goal of access to medicine for all.

The Union for Affordable Cancer Treatment (UACT) and many other groups have called upon the WHO to undertake studies of the feasibility of delinking the incentives to invest in R&D from product prices. Only by delinking the incentives from product prices can we realistically talk about universal access. We need political leadership to advance this reform.

Thiru

Thiru Balasubramaniam is the Geneva Representative of Knowledge Ecology International. Prior to his post as KEI’s Geneva Representative, Mr. Balasubramaniam worked at Health Action International in Colombo and at the World Health Organization in Geneva as a technical officer in the Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy dealing with access to medicines and intellectual property. He began his career with CPTech working on issues related to health care and intellectual property. Mr. Balasubramaniam holds a B.A. in Economics and a Minor in European History from the University of Pennsylvania.