(US $1 => about 1,200 won)
Following the end of negotiations concerning Gleevec, Novartis Pharmaceuticals has closed the price for the leukemia-fighting drug at 23,045 won per capsule, adding that further discussions on the matter are over. Novartis stated that they will stop any further Gleevec sales if this price is not accepted. If Gleevec prices are settled at 23,045 won per capsule, The expenses that one person must burden amounts to 2.76 million to 5.53 million won. According to these numbers, even if a person has insurance, they will have to pay 830 thousand won per month. Even worse, chronic patients do not receive any insurance benefits, which means they must pay entirely out of their own pocket. Clearly, these are not prices that any patient can bear. Furthermore, Gleevec is a sustained drug, not a therapeutic drug, and so it must be taken continuously, even though the long-term effects are not known. This is a disaster for low-income Koreans, caused by Novartis's insistence on keeping the same price as in developed countries. Novartis's stubborn refusal to reduce the price for Gleevec means certain death for Korean leukemia sufferers, many of whom are unable to work while they struggle against the disease. It is not an understatement to call Novartis a murderer.
Novartis defies Korean law and continues to kill with their bargaining Gleevec is a unique drug, and so was exempt from most clinical testing as a result of the struggle of patients in June of last year. In addition, the Drug Authority Administration provisionally set the price last August. Three months later, the South Korean government set the price of Gleevec at 17,062 won per capsule, but this and any other legislative orders from the South Korean government are ignored by Novartis. For the past ten months now, Novartis has stated that they cannot subtract as much as one penny for their drug. Not only that, they have threatened to discontinue sales of Gleevec. Under these unfavorable conditions, supply was actually temporarily suspended last November. Patients have lived in a state of constant anxiety for the last ten months, worried that their medication will no longer be available yet again.
What is most infuriorating about Novartis's stubborn attitude and threats is that they are hurting rather than improving the quality of life of leukemia patients. Last November, Novartis raised the price of Gleevec to 25,000 won per capsule, but they announced they would relieve the patients of the expenses themselves. However, the data that Novartis themselves released was soon revoked without any explanation, and at the most recent price negotiation, the company stated they would cover only 10% of the expenses.
Can a multinational drug corporation completely defy Korean legislation? Is it possible for a multinational drug corporation to fool the Korean people, changing their minds several times without a justifiable explanation? The attitude of Novartis during this process shows that they are only interested in making a huge profit.
Novartis has already recovered all Gleevec development costs and the WTO has restricted
patient rights to medical supplies Novartis successfully fought for intellectual property rights. They argued that intellectual property rights must be guaranteed in order to invest in new drugs such as Gleevec. But was Gleevec developed by the efforts of Novartis alone? During the research stage, public funds were invested by American leukemia patients, and tax benefits were granted so the costs of the research period could be significantly reduced. In addition, as a result of efforts made by leukemia patients, most clinical testing was postponed until after the marketing phase.
Only by this kind of public support was Novartis able to recollect all invested capital within eight months of global marketing of Gleevec. But now, Novartis has twenty years of intellectual property rights.
Under pressure from the South Korean government, leukemia patients, and civic groups, Novartis is using intellectual property as a last resort, sending patients to their death beds. This is not the first case of public health threatened by profit-seeking multinational drug corporations. So in order to solve public health issues involving multinational drug corporations using intellectual property rights such as Novartis, last year's Doha WTO cabinet meeting drew up the TRIPs agreement to enforce protection of public health. Since then, the United States pressured Ciprofloxacin (drug for anthracnose) into reducing their price because of an anthrax scare following 9/11, in which only four people died during the "outbreak." On the other hand, the South Korean government is not considering taking coercive measures even though hundreds of people are dying from leukemia due to Novartis's manipulation of intellectual property rights.
The stubborn high-priced drugs by Novartis protected by intellectual property rights is nothing more than oppressive multinational capital. What is more, Novartis is tyrannizing the South Korea--its people, its government, its laws. In Brazil, the government and Novartis made a mutual agreement last September on a free supply of Gleevec for six months and a reduction of the price to the equivalent of 16,000 won per capsule through negotiations.
We must realize that the intellectual property rights of Novartis is not impenetrable sacred ground. We must defend, as echoed in the WTO cabinet meeting, public health and access to drugs by all people.
For those in need of Gleevec, an insurance coverage and lowering of one's share in expenses purchasing it are necessary.
The Korean government should protect its people from the ruthless decisions of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., however, it is being incapable of and irresponsible for not doing so.
This government have decided on the high enough market price of 17,863 won per capsule but it is not showing any kind of counter actions since then, when the Novartis Corp. refused to settle on that price and threatened to stop supplying Korea with its pills until they get the price they wanted. Civic organizations and the patients were the ones that pressured the Novartis Corp. to distribute more free medicine in the areas that it is urgently needed. It was also these citizens that secured the access of Gleevec by categorizing it to be controlled under the bureau of rare medication. The government could have provided the medication without any cost by exercising its lawful actions, yet the civic organizations claimed for such rights instead. Maybe it was too much in the first place to expect the government to protect its people from the Novartis Corp. which can refuse the fixed price, and still do nothing about it.
"Every citizen is protected by the nation on its health," says the Constitution of Korea. But the Korean government have backed away from the early decision that every patient is Object to medical expense insurance. Moreover, it is laying out excuses that Novartis Corp. did not apply for its medication to be insured beforehand and it left the Novartis's drugs not insured leaving only chronically-ill patients as an exception. There are previous examples how Japan and Switzerland have handled this problem but the Korean government chose to be helpless. The government have promised to lightened the financial burden of seriously-ill patients. And it actually lowered 20% of individual's share in medical expense for those with incurable diseases. For the adult patients with leukemia, however, there was no measure to lesson their burdens when more financial difficulty is expected from them. The government should have learned what it did wrong through such discriminate actions. But it used the media only to mislead the public opinion to go against the patients and civic organizations.
Patients with leukemia are no different any other citizens of Korea. They are ill and they need help, and may well be protected by the government like any Korean people. Even if the price of 17,863 won is accepted by the Novartis, the cost that single patient burdens is too much without it being insured. It may cost a patient from 640,000 won at the least to 4,280,000 won at the most every month. After the introduction of Gleevec, all the government did was to put out a unreasonable price of 17,862 won and did nothing else for the patients, only proving that it is incompetent of doing its job. The government is letting the leukemic patients die. This government is going against the Constitution and does not qualify of being a representative of its people. For the last 10 months, the government's actions toward this matter was enough to name it a "murdering government".
We need to make a reform on the present system of estimating the price of newly -made remedy, which is like that of the 7 developed countries at the moment. It is absurd that the Korean government is doing nothing when for 6 months no medical companies accepted the price that the government had suggested. There were indications that Korea lacked a legitimate counter measure to go against foreign countries' actions but no effort was to be found to make an improvement. Can we not rely on our own government to secure our rights for medical supplies.
The government had made changes in the regulations so that the new medicine will be priced the same as the standards of the 7 developed countries in the world. If the prices of the drugs start to depend on the standards of the more advanced nations, it is obvious that the cost of the drugs turn higher since they will depend on the national income. The government had been worrying over the financial problems concerning health insurance and the payments for medical treatments. It even charged the patients of their meals and sent the poor patients out into the streets to save itself from financial straits. Such government gave up its power to decide its own financial status to multinational pharmaceutical company and paying the entire price that the 7 developed countries have been paying. Under such rules, the problem of Gleevec can no longer be limited to the problem that Gleevec carries and the leukemic patients can no longer fight against the problem by themselves. More medication will be introduced with some patent and we will have to pay 3 to 4 times the cost of the medicine to match up to the standard of the developed countries. This possibly means that we will see patients slowly waiting for their death for not being able to pay for the medication.
Please save the lives of the leukemic patients!
The patients with chronic myeloid leukemia themselves and the civic groups have done what they can do. They protested against the Korean government to lower the cost, appealed to the Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation. They filed a suit against the Constitutional Court, and led marching demonstrations and protests in front of the Government Buildings Management Service, and also drove signature-seeking campaign. For the last 10 months, the patients as well as the civic organizations had to struggle with their lives at stake. But now, all the patients got in return was an absurd insistence on the intellectual property rights and the Korean governments' cutting down of its finances on insurance. Eventually Gleevec, known as the "miracle pill" is something that any sick person can afford.
Just because a person is born in Korea and be sick with Leukemia, it does not mean that the person should die. Up to this day, we have searched for a medicine like Gleevec, in order to live like a human and found the Novartis Corp. with a last hope. The patients think that there is no difference between the death that they die from the disease and the death they will be waiting till the day that they can afford it. Until the Novartis Corp. and the government give us a reasonable answer, we cannot move one step away from this very spot. We beg of you that the people of Korea are the only hope left for these patients to lean on. Decry the ever-irresponsible government and the murderous company, Novartis for putting the patients to death with a price that is irrational. Please support us to just fight for our rights to live.
We are not afraid. The members of the civic organizations and the leukemic patients will not budge an inch backward. We might look helpless but we make ourselves clear once again, that we will continue to struggle against the Novartis Corp. and the incompetent government.