Big Pharma - profits at any price
Drugs can save lives - the pharmaceutical companies set the prices as high as possible.
By Monique Ryser
The state finances research, pharmaceutical companies pocket the profits and deliberately withhold cheap drugs.
[This article published on Oct 8. 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.infosperber.ch/Artikel/Politik/Big-Pharma--Profite-zu-jedem-Preis.]
The German-French TV channel arte has put the big drug producers under the microscope with the documentary "Big Pharma - the omnipotence of the corporations" (available on YouTube, in Switzerland the broadcasts of the German-French channel are blocked online).
One of the examples directly concerns Switzerland: it is about age blindness and the drugs Avastin and Lucentis. Avastin is actually a cancer medication, but it has been found to be very effective against age blindness (age-related macular degeneration AMD) (in Switzerland this was already a topic in 2011, as Infosperberber reported). However, Avastin, which is manufactured by Roche, has never been filed with the authorities as a treatment for AMD because the company has Lucentis on the market with the same active ingredient. And this is an incredible 13 times more expensive than Avastin. As CH Media reported, the Helsana health insurance company can no longer offer this: Helsana boss Daniel Schmutz announced that Avastin would be reimbursed even if it was against the law. "We save around one million francs a year for our customers," he is quoted as saying. Calculated for the whole of Switzerland, there would be a savings potential of 80 million francs annually if the more expensive Lucentis were to be dispensed with.
Competitors pull together and help each other
Avastin and Lucentis are also a good example of the power of corporations in another context: both drugs are produced by Roche. In the USA, Roche also markets both products itself. Outside the USA, however, the big Swiss competitor Novartis - which itself has a 33% stake in Roche - is responsible for the distribution of Lucentis.
Two groups that should actually be in competition are working together here and securing market power for each other. However, not only insurance companies, as in Switzerland, but also state competition authorities are beginning to fight back: In France, the two Swiss companies were fined 444 million Swiss francs. A similar lawsuit is pending in Italy. Novartis and Roche have filed appeals in both countries.
Public research funds, private profits
Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and today professor at Harvard Medical School, is disillusioned in the arte film: "With the prices of medicines it is no longer a question of covering the development costs, but only of making as much profit as possible. The drug Kymriah is cited as an example (Infosperberber reported). The gene therapy against leukemia costs 320,000 euros. Especially disturbing, according to Angell: The therapy was researched at the University of Pennsylvania with public funds. Novartis holds the patent and distributes the therapy, which is also approved in Switzerland and Germany. Hematologist Jean-Paul Vernant admits that gene therapy requires complex procedures and is very expensive. "But that does not justify this excessive price. If we were to replicate this therapy in public hospitals, the maximum cost would be 40,000 euros," says the physician practicing at the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris.
"Almost all innovations today come from public research," says Marcia Angell. This often results in spin-offs that are then taken over by large pharmaceutical companies. "The pharmaceutical companies also locate themselves locally around the universities so that they can only cross the street to buy a patent or take over the entire company," says Marcia Angell.
"How can I earn a maximum"
Another problem is that the countries in which the large pharmaceutical companies are domiciled often have no interest in enforcing stricter rules. This is what Marisol Touraine, the former French Minister of Health and now President of the aid organization Unitaid, says in the film. "The pharmaceutical companies only ask themselves: How can I earn a maximum? For example, the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi from the company Gilead was launched in the USA at an introductory price of around 80,000 euros. In Europe, where in contrast to the USA prices are regulated, it costs 42,000 euros. But even this price is unaffordable for people in poorer countries and without social health systems. Through negotiations, Marisol Touraine has managed to have a generic drug produced. Now MyHep DVIR is available for developing countries at a price of 80 US dollars. "But only in developing countries" "But only in developing countries," says Touraine. But that also shows at what price the drug could be produced.
Trickery with pandemic
Also from Gilead is the drug Remdesivir, which is currently being used against Covid-19, recently also sold to President Trump. Just how bold Gilead is in its approach is shown by the timing of the market launch. The first reports of a possible effect were received from 70 countries, report the journalists of the arte documentation. However, since the drug had been developed as an Ebola drug and had only been approved for this purpose, the pharmaceutical company had the drug registered as an orphan drug in the USA. Orphan drugs are drugs against rare diseases. The regulatory authorities assume that not much can be earned with them because of the rarity of the disease, and in return they grant a seven-year monopoly and tax advantages in addition to a patent right extended to 20 years. For a drug to be accepted as an "orphan drug", the number of patients in the USA must be less than 200,000. Gilead took advantage of this at the very beginning of the pandemic and was granted the status. It then took the protests and pressure from the NGO Public Citizen for the US regulatory authority to withdraw Gilead's orphan drug status. "It is scandalous that Gilead even tried to do this," the public citizen officials said in outrage. And they go even further: now they are building up pressure for Gilead - in the event that Remdesivir becomes effective - to make the drug accessible to all and to make it widely available through licenses. In the event of a pandemic and as much publicity as now, Public Citizen may also succeed.
Millions of people worldwide are on the run from war in their home countries © swa
How US wars contribute to global mass exodus
Editors - Wars of the USA and its allies have driven 37 million people to flee their homes. A study demands reparations.
[This article published on Oct 4, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.infosperber.ch/Artikel/Politik/westlichen-Maechte-verursachen-Fluchtlingsstroeme.]
The overwhelming majority of refugees in Greece, including those on the Aegean islands, have fled from theaters of war by Western powers, but are being locked out by Germany and the EU. More than three-fifths of all refugees registered in Greece last year came from four countries where the German Bundeswehr is operating (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria) or where the United States is conducting drone attacks (Pakistan). In Lesbos, refugees from the Hindu Kush are particularly present. This corresponds to the results of a recent study by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University (Providence/Rhode Island). According to this study, the wars waged by the USA and its allies - including Germany - have forced at least 37 million people to flee their homes over the past two decades. Only the Second World War produced more refugees than they did. Berlin and Brussels are providing large sums of money to seal off the borders against unwanted immigrants. The concession that Berlin is prepared to make after the fire in the Moria camp: to accept no more than 1700 people.
The "Costs of War Project"
The "Costs of War Project", which the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University (Providence/Rhode Island) has been running since 2010, has recently analyzed the share that the wars of the Western powers have in the current global mass exodus. The project, supported by a total of around 50 experts, systematically researches the damage that U.S. wars have caused around the world since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 - from the number of deaths and the destruction of affected societies to the effects that the uninterrupted war policy has had on the interior of the warring states.
At the beginning of September, project staff published a study devoted solely to the question of how many people have been forced to flee the U.S. wars since 2001 The results of the study also affect German politics, since Germany was and is involved in numerous U.S. wars in one way or another.
Fled from Western wars
The study focuses on eight countries in which the United States was or is either the decisive (Iraq 2003) or one of several leading warring parties (Afghanistan, Libya) - or in which it at least plays a leading role with drone attacks or with the provision of necessary reconnaissance data (Somalia, Yemen).  The study is based on the following two examples
The "Costs of War Project" explicitly points out that it chooses cautious estimates when counting refugees; for example, its statistics on Afghan refugees in Pakistan include only refugees who have been officially registered as such, but not the unregistered refugees, whose number in Pakistan was estimated at 1.3 million in 2015.
In Syria, the authors of the study have only taken in refugees from the five governorates where US military operated in the war against the IS from 2014. Even with this - definitely underestimated - counting method, 37 million people in the eight countries analyzed were forced to flee in the past two decades; in fact, the number could even reach 59 million. In addition, there are countless other refugees-in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where U.S. troops are also operating.
Although a good 25 million have now returned to their places of origin, in many cases this has not been done voluntarily, for example through deportation or expulsion, and in addition misery, hunger and war often still prevail in the places of origin.
Almost as much as in the Second World War
In order to illustrate the flight situation and to facilitate an assessment of what happened, the study first points out that in five countries of origin alone - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen - around 800,000 people died in fighting, again a cautious estimate; if the victims of direct consequences of war such as malnutrition or disease are included, the number of war deaths is at least three million, perhaps even a two-digit million figure.
Since 2001, 26 percent of the pre-war population has been forced to flee Afghanistan, 37 percent in Iraq and Syria, and as many as 46 percent in Somalia. Even in the cautious estimate of the "Costs of War Project," which assumes a good 37 million refugees, the US wars since 2001 together have now reached a level that far exceeds the refugee flows of World War I (10 million), the Vietnam War (13 million) and the "partition" of India in 1947 (14 million), which was accompanied by mass violence. Only the Second World War forced more people to flee than the wars since 2001, in which Germany is predominantly involved: as a participant in the war, for example in Afghanistan as well as in the war against the IS in Syria and Iraq; by placing personnel in NATO staffs such as in Libya in 2011; as a location for U.S. bases used to transport troops and material or to conduct drone operations (U.S. base Ramstein ).
One percent of the world population on the run
That the Western powers with their global wars and military operations cause a large part of the worldwide refugee flows is also shown by a look at the current statistics of the UN Refugee Agency. According to the UNHCR, Syria continues to be the country from which the highest number of people have fled abroad - around 6.6 million; Afghanistan is in third place with 2.7 million refugees. If we add asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, a total of almost 13.5 million Syrians and about six million Afghans are affected, as well as 2.5 million Iraqis, 3.6 million Somalis and almost 3.8 million Yemenis.
All in all, the number of people worldwide who are on the run inside or outside their country of origin rose last year to 79.5 million - almost as many as the entire population of the Federal Republic or a good one percent of the world's population. Furthermore, the vast majority of refugees have found refuge in developing countries - 85 percent; 80 percent of all refugees are in countries where a secure supply of food cannot be guaranteed.
Even among those who try to flee to Europe via Greece, people from countries where the West wages wars are in the majority: According to the Greek Council for Refugees, of the 77,287 people who sought refugee protection in Greece last year, 23,828 came from Afghanistan, 10,856 from Syria, 7140 from Pakistan and 5738 from Iraq; the remainder were distributed in smaller numbers to other countries.
Questioning the legitimacy of wars
In view of the facts, the authors of the "Costs of War" study conclude: "After almost two decades of disastrous results, the legitimacy and efficiency of wars should be questioned more than ever before. 6] In addition, the question must be raised "what steps" the states responsible for the wars are taking to "repair" the damage they have caused to at least 37 million refugees.
The answer given by Germany and the EU with regard to the refugees on the Greek islands speaks a clear language. For example, after the fire in the Moria camp, only unaccompanied children and young people were brought to the Greek mainland; for the other over 12,000 refugees on Lesbos, a new camp is being built - with EU funds. The German government has declared itself willing to grant refuge in Germany to just 408 families - 1553 people - in addition to 150 unaccompanied minors, but only to those whose refugee status has already been recognized; no more is planned.
There is no shortage of money: the EU is at the same time providing immense sums of money to prevent further people fleeing from the theaters of war, including European states, from entering the country. The budget for the refugee defense agency Frontex alone has more than tripled between 2015 and 2020 - from 140 million to 460 million euros.
Wars since 2001 have produced 37 million refugees
Source: "Costs of War Project", Brown University, Sept. 2020; graph: Kelly Martin/IRW