2 Sep 2015
Pharmaceutical companies spend tens of millions of euros on lobbyists every year to ensure “privileged access” to decision-makers in Brussels, according to a major new report that lifts the lid on their influence on EU drugs and healthcare policy.
The industry now spends at least €40m annually – 15 times more than NGOs and consumer groups, according to estimates – as representatives from “big pharma” enjoy a “staggering” number of meetings with European Commission departments and officials.
The report published today by research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals:
• The influential European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (Efpia) had over 50 meetings with the EU’s executive body during Jean-Claude Juncker’s first four and a half months as head of the Commission.
• The “corporate dominance” of Commission expert groups by industry representatives appearing in a “personal capacity”, using high-level access to influence EU policy.
• The increasing use of “Pharmish” – a form of “doublespeak” creeping from industry documents into EU rhetoric, which manipulates public understanding.
• How patients are effectively asked to fund drug “research” costs twice, as many costs are already covered by taxpayer-funded universities that often carry out research and development before pharma companies buy the rights.
Among the EU laws targeted or shaped by the industry include rules around clinical trials’ data transparency, trade secrets, and the negotiation of the EU-US trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the report said.
A total of 40 pharmaceutical companies now appear on the EU’s transparency register – up from 23 in January 2012 with Bayer AG, GlaxoSmith-Kline and Novartis topping the list, having spent €6.5m on lobbying last year alone.
But under-reporting and the continued avoidance by some firms of the EU’s voluntary transparency system mean that overall big pharma lobbying outlay is likely to be much higher, CEO claims.
Efpia, whose lobbying expenditure has gone from €50,000 in 2010 to more than €5m last year, plays a “covert and explicit” role in shaping the policy agenda, by sending lobbyists in a “personal capacity” to sit in on the Commission’s expert groups, the report said.
Efpia representatives appear on official advisory bodies concerning alcohol and health, corporate responsibility, and implications of patent law in biotechnology and genetic engineering.
The group responded in a statement: “Efpia aims to be transparent about everything it does and what positions it takes. If people want our view on the vast range of subjects that impact on the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, they need only ask. We would point out that we are a highly regulated industry and as such are regularly required and requested to provide comments on public policy initiative. Efpia does and is happy to contribute this information in a constructive and co-operative spirit.
“Following the new guidelines for the transparency register Efpia has declared a spend of €5,071,000 in 2014 on activities covered by the register. We encourage our membership to sign up to the EU Transparency Register and have additionally issued accurate guidance advocating participation in the voluntary register.”
But with a record number of drug patents set to expire over the next few years, allowing cheaper generic drugs to be produced and threatening industry profits, the huge increase in lobbying spending coincides with a critical time for the sector.
When Pfizer’s patent for Viagra expired in 2013, the cost of a pill reduced in price from £10 to around 85p. By 2019 other companies are predicted to lose more than £40bn of combined income from their “blockbuster drugs”, according to research firm GlobalData.
Industry groups therefore want the bilateral EU-US TTIP trade agreement to ensure longer monopoly periods and higher medicine prices for any exclusive medicines, the report authors said.
They warned any provisions on intellectual property rights in the proposed free trade treaty would allow US pharmaceutical companies to sue EU member states over measures to promote access to medicines, such as price controls and stricter parliamentary standards, through a system of international-state dispute settlements.
“Such provisions will intensify health inequalities, compromise access to affordable medicines and hand more power and privilege to an increasingly unaccountable industry,” the CEO report said.
The settlements have already been used by big tobacco firms taking advantage of similar bilateral trade agreements to sue countries who attempt to tighten their smoking legislation.
Rachel Tansey, CEO researcher and author of the report, said: “The large-scale efforts of big pharmaceutical companies to mould EU policy to their own commercial benefit and their privileged access to EU decision-makers is deeply worrying.
“Strong measures are needed to avoid capture of EU health policy by big pharma, beginning with full transparency over industry lobbying and ending of privileged access.”
Doublespeak: Mind your language
The language used by big pharma when lobbying officials is a form of Orwellian doublespeak according to consumer groups in the US and EU.
David Hammerstein from TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue said many “pharmish” phrases, in which “access” is not accessible, “transparency” is not transparent and “affordability” is not affordable, can be found in industry lobbying materials. CEO said it is more worrying how much of the language has found its way into EU institutions’ rhetoric too. When the industry refers to “access to medicines” it doesn’t mean patients’ access, but its own ability to get “innovative medicines” on the market, the report said.
Other examples included the “omnipresent” use of terms such as “innovation”, despite the research group claiming the industry develops little that is meaningfully “new”, “research-based industry”, despite most research taking place at universities funded by taxpayers, and “intellectual property rights”, which the CEO report said are, in fact, not rights, but monopoly privileges granted by governments, that drive up prices.