Hey, European countries--join forces to bring down drug prices, WHO suggests

You want to reduce high prices for new meds, European countries? Here's a suggestion for you: Work together.

According to a new study from the World Health Organization (WHO), it's becoming increasingly difficult for European countries to afford rising, sky-high drug costs with pricey new therapies for chronic conditions like cancer, Type 2 diabetes and hepatitis C storming onto the scene. While these therapies are straining budgets across the continent, low- and middle-income countries are getting hit hardest, and the way WHO sees it, that's where joining forces can make a difference.

If countries share their experiences and beef up their cooperation, they may be able to increase transparency and fill the gaps in medicine pricing policy, WHO says. And that'll help those countries with less-developed regulation mechanisms and weaker health systems, the organization figures.

Right now, that transparency is seriously lacking. While countries like the U.K. and Germany have cost watchdogs that force companies to ink discount deals, the prices they pay are often under wraps.

But equally opaque is how pharma comes to its drug-pricing decisions, and WHO puts the onus on the industry to be more forthright, too. As David Haslam, chair of England's health technology assessor NICE, put it last year, at the moment, "no one outside of a pharma firm's boardroom" knows how sticker decisions are set.

That's something the U.S. would like to see more of, too, especially since it lacks cost-effectiveness gatekeeper like NICE. In its place, the job of strong-arming companies has fallen to PBMs like Express Scripts, which recently touched off a hep C pricing war by negotiating an exclusive discount with AbbVie that excluded Gilead's contenders.

One California lawmaker in particular is pushing drugmakers to open up. California Assembly Member David Chiu, recently proposed a new bill that would require them for the first time to reveal information on how they price the industry's most expensive meds.

- read more from WHO
- see PMLiVE's take

Special Reports: The top 10 most expensive drugs of 2013 | The most influential people in biopharma today - 2014 - Steve Miller - Express Scripts

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