Annan Gets Continued Price-Reduction ‘Assurances’ from Six Drug Makers at ‘Secret’ Meeting in Amsterdam
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday received "high-level assurances" from the chief executives of six of the world's "most powerful" pharmaceutical firms that they would continue to "accelerate" price reductions on AIDS medications for the developing world, the Wall Street Journal reports. In return, the United Nations will not take part in the "escalating crusade" against patent protection, the Journal reports, calling this a "crucial concession." In a post-meeting interview Annan said, "We affirmed to [the CEOs] that the intellectual property regime is essential if companies are going to have the incentive to do the research to produce effective medicines for these diseases." Annan met for three hours yesterday with officials from Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, Roche Holding and GlaxoSmithKline in Amsterdam on "very short notice." Merck & Co. was "[n]otabl[y]" absent from the meeting. Company executives had planned on attending but decided against it on Wednesday night when lawyers warned them that "any talk about specific pricing might be seen as price fixing" (Freedman, Wall Street Journal, 4/6). The meeting was kept "secret" from reporters, who were told a dinner with Dutch Queen Beatrix was the only commitment on Annan's schedule (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/6). World Health Organization Director Gro Harlem Brundtland and UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot also took part in the meeting (UNAIDS release, 4/5).
The pharmaceutical companies agreed to negotiate drug prices with the 50 "least-developed" countries as a group -- "abandoning the lengthy process of cutting deals for AIDS drugs with each country individually," a process criticized as "slow and unwieldy," the Journal reports. In an agreement reached in May, five leading drug companies, excluding Abbott and Pfizer, agreed to reduce prices in Africa by 80% to 90% on a country-to-country basis. Yesterday's agreement will also extend the price reductions to developing nations outside of Africa, as well as to "certain private, non-governmental agencies and employers" (Wall Street Journal, 4/6). Upon his return from Amsterdam Thursday night, Abbott CEO Miles White said, "We want to focus our efforts on those areas where there is no health care or little access to health care. [Annan] wanted to make sure we aren't limiting ourselves to Africa. The fact is, we are not" (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 4/6).
A 'Personal Priority'
According to the AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the meeting was a "signal that Annan is deepening his personal involvement in combating AIDS in poor countries, before an AIDS summit this summer in New York." Fighting AIDS "has become my personal priority," Annan said (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/6). But even with yesterday's progress, Annan failed to "exact specific pricing concessions that he had hoped for." One meeting participant said Annan wanted "more commitments" on pricing, but "none of [the drug company representatives] wanted to talk about that because they are all a little spooked, especially the American companies, about antitrust." Annan said he was "satisfied" with yesterday's results and denied that "specific pricing concessions" were on his agenda. He also said he will conduct "periodi[c]" meetings with the drug company officials to "review their progress" over the coming months (Wall Street Journal, 4/6). The meeting came on the heels of the announcement Wednesday of a "massive" anti-AIDS plan to be "spearheaded" by the United Nations and WHO. Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs unveiled the basics of the multi-billion dollar plan Wednesday. The proposal will be presented at the special meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on AIDS in June (Farley, Los Angeles Times, 4/6).