Berlin launches dialogue to boost pharma research

Over-the-counter, prescription and homeopathic medications. US, 2006. [Bright Vibes/Flickr].jpg

The German government initiated plans on Monday (15 September) to strengthen the country’s attractiveness for pharmaceutical research and development, but the Left Party warns it is likely to become an “image campaign” for pharmaceutical giants. reports.

Berlin gave the starting signal for a pharma-dialogue on Monday (15 September) hoping to strengthen Germany’s international clout as a location for pharmaceutical research, development and production.

German Health Minister Hermann Gröhe, Education and Research Minister Johanna Wanka, and Economic and Energy Minister’s parliamentary state secretary, Uwe Beckmeyer, opened the event that was meant as an initial stock-taking exercise, evaluating Germany as a location for research, innovation and production.

Several rounds of talks are expected to take place with representatives from manufacturing and research, with a conclusion expected in January 2016.

“Increases in life expectancy can in large part be traced back to the development of new medications,” Gröhe explained.

“We need Germany to remain a strong pharmaceutical hub so that patients can depend on high-quality medicines in the future. We need good conditions for research and development as well as exchange over pressing questions, such as handling bottlenecks in supply and the fight against antibiotic resistance,” Gröhe said. “The pharma-dialogue provides us with a platform for this.”

According to official statistics, Germany’s pharmaceutical industry generates over €42.3 billion in revenues, with two-thirds being in foreign countries.

Portions of the industry located in Germany employed over 110,000 people in 2013 and invested more than €1.3 billion in real estate, machines and facilities.

Every seventh euro earned in pharmaceuticals flows into research and development – more than in any other sector.

And in addition there are indirect and direct “spillover effects”. Every worker in the pharmaceutical industry is complemented by 1.2 workers in downstream industries and service sectors.

According to Wanka, raising performance in pharmaceutical research and development not only promotes Germany as a location. “We are also creating the conditions for better medicine”.

“Substance research and drug development play a key role in this. Together with research and pharmaceutical manufacturers, we want to make better use of opportunities that we have in Germany, thanks to the first-class research environment. That is another reason why it is so important to have this dialogue on framework conditions for drug development,” the Research Minister said.

Left Party: Beware of “image campaign”

But Kathrin Vogler, spokesperson for pharmaceutical policy and patient rights in the Left Party’s (Die Linke) Bundestag faction, warned that the pharma-dialogue must not become an “image campaign for pharmaceutical giants”.

“We must carefully observe whether the pharma-dialogue actually creates improvements in treatment and research or if it simply prioritises regional economic policy over health policy,” she explained.

The German health ministry believes pharmaceutical corporations are businesses that drive progress, Vogler said. “But most medications that are newly released onto the market do not fulfill this criteria.”

“The list of ongoing political projects spans from an open study register to support for non-commercial research to treatment models in developing countries. The pharma-dialogue would be useful in pushing these issues forward,” Vogler continued.

But she has not heard the Gröhe’s health ministry mention anything of this nature.

“Instead, he sends a pious appeal to the pharmaceutical industry the same day, calling on them to take on more socio-political responsibility. In that case, you don’t know whether to cry or laugh,” she criticised.

“The fact is, cases are piling up in which pharmaceutical firms pull medications off the market, just to release them again overseas under a new name and new indication and sell them at a much higher price. The pharmaceutical industry has really worked for its negative image,” Vogler warned.

The Left Party politician said the German Health Minister would be better off waiting for signs of a genuine change of heart before he embarks on a state-run pharmaceutical PR campaign.

Germany is not alone in its efforts to improve conditions for the pharmaceutical industry within its borders: In April, the European Parliament voted in favour of the second Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI2), a multi-billion Euro research programme run jointly by the European Commission and the pharmaceutical industry.

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is Europe's largest public-private initiative aiming to speed up the development of better and safer medicines for patients. IMI is a joint undertaking between the EU and the pharmaceutical industry association EFPIA.

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