Big Pharma creates its own backlash

Originally published in icon Issue 1 2007


Ed: Although this piece is not about cancer but about ‘bird flu’ we felt it was worth inclusion for general interest (From Money Morning)


 “The Indonesian government is refusing to supply bird flu samples to foreign scientists. GlaxoSmithKline has attacked the decision, which will hinder its efforts to develop a human vaccine for the virus.
So what’s the problem? The Indonesians want the World Health Organisation (WHO) to provide guarantees that the samples won’t be used commercially.
The Indonesian government is worried that if it hands over the samples, they’ll go from the WHO to big pharma vaccine-makers such as GSK, who’ll then create vaccines that the poor in developing countries won’t be able to afford.
The reason that Indonesia is so important in the hunt for a bird flu vaccine is because it has seen the most human fatalities as a result of H5N1. There have been 64-recorded deaths in the country, and as Robin Pagnamenta in The Times says, it is “considered one of the most likely places where a human pandemic strain could emerge.”
Any decision to pull out of the current WHO system, whereby countries share information on flu viruses freely, could have serious knock-on consequences. The agreement to share information on flu viruses has stood for 50 years. “Any decision to pull out would be the first in the system’s history.”
However, despite the worries, and the anger of the drug makers, the WHO concedes that Indonesia does have a point. “Indonesia is rightly concerned about its access to a vaccine. At most, manufacturers will be able to produce only 500 million doses - far short of what will be needed in the event of a pandemic. The vaccines will be in limited supply and will probably be available only to countries which have manufacturing capacity.”
As 95% of that capacity is in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia, Indonesia would be some distance down the pecking order before it could get its hands on any vaccine.
The country is already talking to US vaccine giant Baxter about a potential deal to develop a vaccine outside the WHO system, and others (such as Vietnam) might do the same”.

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