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Merck CEO Outlines Next Two Years as IFPMA President, Raises Ire on IP


Pharmaceutical Executive

Merck KGaA CEO Stefan Oschmann spoke last week in New York as he accepted the two-year role as president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the R&D industry’s global trade group based in Geneva.

Merck KGaA CEO Stefan Oschmann spoke last week in New York as he accepted the two-year role as president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the R&D industry’s global trade group based in Geneva.

Oschmann first acknowledged the work of Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, outgoing IFPMA president. In the past two year two years under Lechleiter’s watch, the IFPMA accomplished great work including the “fight the fakes” anti-counterfeiting campaign, science-based regulatory pathways for biosimilars, regulatory convergence, particularly in Asia and Africa, and the Consensus Framework for ethical collaboration.

Global health is “close to my heart”, Oschmann said to the trade group. “We, as an industry, need to be a trusted partner in global health. I believe we can do so by accelerating access to health for people in low- and middle-income countries,” he added.

Middle-income countries represent a key point of vulnerability for the industry as it fends off critiques that price concessions seem absent in these key targets of market opportunity. It will be interesting to see how IFPMA and its members seek to put specifics on this pledge.

Stefan Oschmann

Oschmann stressed two initiatives for IFPMA’s focus during his tenure: (1) to stimulate more health innovation through local entrepreneurship and (2) strengthening, scaling and fostering health capacity through local empowerment.

On innovation, “there’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to addressing human health. The same applies to health innovation – it has to be tailored to local contexts and needs, particularly in resource constrained environments,” he said.

“30% of 25-35-year-olds in Sub-Saharan Africa are engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity,” he said, citing a GEM Consulting report from 2011. “There is a clear need to tap into this talent pool. Entrepreneurial talent needs encouragement, and innovators in many countries simply need platforms on which their talent and solutions can be recognized,” he explained. The assertion is founded on the idea that IFPMA and its members can supportthese platforms through partnerships on good ideas.

On strengthening, scaling and fostering capacity through local empowerment, Oschmann pointed to the UN’s post-2015 SustainableDevelopment Goals focusing on recruitment, development, training and retention of healthcare providers in developing countries. Gaps linger fueled by growing burdens of diseases and demographic shifts, he noted. It was left unclear how the industry might support the goals, which suffer from a palpable sense ofmission creep at the UN.

People most in need are not receiving medicine, and among the barriers are inefficiencies in supply and distribution chains, explained Oschmann. Limited regulatory capacity and the lack of reliable demographic data are compounding factors, he said.

Oschmann stressed “the importance of strong intellectual property rights frameworks as an enabler for innovation and access.”

“Innovation and intellectual property rights are at the core of our industry. We must continue to advocated for the recognition of the value of innovation and intellectual property as an enabler of sustainable access,” said Oschmann.

Outcry on IP

In his support of intellectual property rights, Oschmann stated, “There is zero evidence that intellectual property is a hindrance to access to medicines.” His claim was tweeted by Eli Lilly’s official Twitter account and was deleted soon after.

An activist coalition, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, together with the American Medical Student Association and STOPAIDS, voiced their concerns in a press release a few days later.

“Tackling the current patent system is crucial to improving access to medicines worldwide. We must hold governments, pharmaceutical companies and universities accountable for placing affordability of medicines above commercial considerations: patients instead of patents,” said Merith Basey, Executive Director for Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (North America), in the group’s press release.

“Anyone who says there is zero evidence that patents hinder access to medicines is either really stupid, or acting as if everyone else is really stupid. The IFPMA member companies have been trying to pricecancer drugs at more than $100 per day in India, a country with average incomes just over $4 per day. In what Universe does this not hinder access? It is unfortunate that an important trade association like IFPMA has elected someone who has zero appreciation for the crisis in access to new medicines,” said long-time industry critic James Love, Knowledge Ecology International, in the release.

According to the authors of the press release, neither Eli Lilly nor the IFPMA replied to requests to confirm Oschmann’s statement, and a transcript of the speech is not currently available online. PharmExec was present at the conference and noted the “zero evidence” comment and tweet; although the comments were off-script from Oschmann’s speech, which the CEO strayed from frequently as he interacted with the audience.

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