Witty: Europe needs to overhaul drugs approach

GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) CEO Andrew Witty (photo) has taken over at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, and he's already calling for change. In his first speech as federation chief, Witty set out a to-do list for European governments. First on the list: Get your pricing act together. Next: Work together to assess new medications, rather than duplicating efforts--and contradicting one another.

Witty said that European countries need to look at the big picture when setting drug prices. "If they take a narrow focus ... in 10 years' time they will discover there are not any new drugs being developed," Witty said. We've heard that song before, but Witty offered a new twist, saying that the industry needs to do its part by participating in a "balanced dialogue" about drug prices. Companies shouldn't run off when price cuts are threatened, as Novo Nordisk did in Greece. "Industry needs to find ways to stay at the table," he said.

But the biggest change Witty advocated was pan-European co-operation when deciding whether drugs are a good value. Instead of looking at effectiveness country by country--think the National Institute for Health and Clinical excellence in the U.K., and similar groups in Germany and France--the European Medicines Agency could play a larger role. That way, the "rational evidence-based relative efficacy or effectiveness discussion" would happen only once in Europe, "rather than having it 27 times and potentially answered 27 different ways," he said.

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