IFPMA Disputes Doctors Without Boarders Report

December 1, 2001
Kevin Gopal
Kevin Gopal

Kevin Gopal is Pharmaceutical Executive's international correspondent, covering pharma and regulatory issues around the word. He is also a political columnist for North West Business Insider, one of the UK's leading regional business magazines. He started his career as a journalist at SiYu, the UK's Chinese community magazine, before joining the PE staff.

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Geneva, Switzerland-A Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) report claiming there is virtually no research into diseases that predominantly affect the poor is distorted and politically motivated, says Dr. Harvey Bale, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA). He claims that medicines do exist to treat most of the more dangerous diseases affecting poor people, but in many cases they do not reach patients for reasons that are beyond control of the pharmaceutical industry.

Geneva, Switzerland-A Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) report claiming there is virtually no research into diseases that predominantly affect the poor is distorted and politically motivated, says Dr. Harvey Bale, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA). He claims that medicines do exist to treat most of the more dangerous diseases affecting poor people, but in many cases they do not reach patients for reasons that are beyond control of the pharmaceutical industry.

The MSF report, "A Fatal Imbalance," is based on a survey of the R&D activities of 11 of the world's largest pharma companies. It says that, together, those 11 R&D departments brought only one new TB drug to market in the last five years. Eight of the 11 reported no research activity in the last year for fatal diseases that almost exclusively affect the poor: sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis.

Millions of people in developing countries die every year because the only drugs available to treat many infectious diseases are old, toxic, or ineffective, reports Dr. Bernard Pécoul, director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. The report suggests that, of the 1,393 new drugs approved between 1975 and 1999, just 13, or one percent, are for tropical diseases.

But Bale claims that the report focuses on diseases that affect less than one percent of the world's population. He says medicines exist to treat the diseases with the highest morbidity and mortality figures for the developing world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The drugs that do exist are just not getting to people.

Bale questions the motives of MSF and countries such as India that say loosening patent protection is necessary to improve access to medicines. He says, "Countries like that want to steal technology and MSF agrees with them."

He is scornful of a suggestion in MSF's report that companies should be forced to redirect some of their R&D into neglected diseases. "Should it not apply to gen-erics or OTC companies that don't do research?" he asks, adding that such a move would mean less research into cancer and heart diseases-something that western patients would not tolerate.

He also dismisses MSF's claim that the International Conference on Harmonization, which seeks to harmonize the marketing authorization process around the world, has prohibitively raised the barriers for developing countries seeking to bring their own medicines to market. Says Bale, "That means MSF doesn't care if substandard products are released."

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