The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Alexandra Greenberg,

Activists Call on USG for Action Against Big Pharma Drug Prices

As part of a Global Day of Action against Pharma Greed


On April Fool's Day, global and domestic health activists will demand that the pharmaceutical industry stop charging unethical prices for medications during a protest at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Activists will protest as a "PhRMA executive" operates a life-sized Uncle Sam puppet to defend PhRMA's prices. The activists will cut the puppet strings between the U.S. government (USG) and PhRMA, symbolically freeing our country to adopt pharmaceutical development strategies that serve the public interest and to oppose trade deals designed to line the pharmaceutical industry's pockets.

Activists will call on the U.S. government to pledge to reform drug development policies, support a global R&D agreement for more affordable medicines in the developing world, and oppose trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would extend drug company monopolies at the expense of patients' lives. "The U.S. Government can put a stop to the unethical practices that allow pharmaceutical companies to profit enormously on the backs of taxpayers and patients, pricing life-saving medications, already paid for via university research, out of reach," said Merith Basey, Executive Director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines.

PhRMA is a lobbying organization representing most major American pharmaceutical companies, as well as a significant number of foreign corporations, and has worked to obscure recent scandals in drug pricing, arguing simply that pricing is complex. The biomedical research and development system that PhRMA defends has failed the sick, bankrupted public programs, and left millions of poor people to die worldwide.

The activists involved in Friday's protest are calling on the US. government and the pharmaceutical industry to adopt a patient-centered solution to this crisis. This solution must recognize that high drug prices disproportionately affect minorities, the poor, and the otherwise marginalized and vulnerable. "New drugs that cure Hepatitis C cost upwards of $84,000. Black men and women in the US account for 22% of Hepatitis C and die from the disease in middle age at twice the rate of whites. Systemic inequality means that Hepatitis C deaths continue to rise in the U.S. for many, despite the advent of highly effective interferon-free therapy. Hepatitis C now kills more Americans than HIV, but Gilead's price gouging bleeds public health programs dry, and brutally leaves patients without the medicine they need to survive," said Karyn Pomerantz from the Metro Washington Public Health Association.

With the support of the U.S. government, the pharmaceutical industry is pushing for longer-term monopolies in trade agreements like the TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These monopolies would delay the production and availability of lifesaving, affordable generic medicines. Despite this, the U.S. government has led the charge for the TPP and the TTIP, apparently blind to the inherent conflict of interest of allowing the pharmaceutical industry to help craft these trade agreements.

Novel and effective medications are here, or in the pipeline for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, clotting disorders, HIV and hepatitis C and yet they are not reaching those who need them most. "Patient lives are on the line now, we can't wait," said UAEM's Ali Greenberg. "We demand affordable prices and a stop to practices that block access to care, especially those promoted by the deadly terms included in the TPP." Ms. Greenberg continued, "We need the U.S. government to take the lead and to start proposing real solutions to the current global crisis in access to medicines."

Friday's action in front of PhRMA is part of a larger Global Day of Action against pharmaceutical industry greed, with actions taking place on April Fool's Day in Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Delhi, Ahmedabad, New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and three other international cities that cannot yet be named due to the nature of the events. All of the actions will highlight scandals in drug development and price gouging that robs U.S. taxpayers, while leaving patients in developing countries without the medicine they need to survive. The USG must reject the provisions in the TPP that will negatively impact access to medicines, and support discussions around the creation and adoption of a global research and development agreement at the World Health Organization which would set standards for affordable pricing of medicines worldwide. As Jacob Levi from ACT UP put it, "It's time to stop letting the U.S. government play PhRMA's fool."