This year 1,938 pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists from 95 countries across the globe gathered in Bangkok in the FIP Annual Congress from 29 Aug to 4 September. This year’s Congress ran under the theme “Access to medicines and pharmacists today, better outcomes tomorrow”. I was lucky enough to be among those from EFPIA taking part in FIP and wanted to share some highlights of the week below.
Do patents limit access to medicines?
Richard Bergström, Director General of EFPIA, spoke about the need of patents to secure innovation in the session that approached the question “Do patents limit access to new medicines?” from different perspectives. Bergström’s robust defense of the industry need to maintain the intellectual property system also recognised the need for changes in the way medicines are financed and supplied. The way that financing of research stands for the moment, it remains evident that patents still are one of the most important incentives to make it possible for the innovative pharmaceutical industry to conduct and finance research and develop medicines in areas of unmet medical need. After the session Richard Bergstrom rushed off to meet the newly appointed deputy Prime Minister of Thailand that oversees health care as well as research.
The co-speaker of the session, Suwit Wibulpolprasert from the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, raised the worry that intellectual property systems would result in high prices of novel technologies – making them beyond the reach of the poor or even middle class. These are issues he faces in the daily life of making decisions about which medicines are reimbursed and readily accessible for the population in Thailand.
Kathleen Holloway from Regional Office of South-East Asia of WHO, presented results from WHO/HAI surveys that have shown average public sector availability of essential generic medicines of 29%-54% across the regions. While public procurement is relatively efficient, patients must pay 9-25 times international reference prices for generics in the public sector. The lowest paid unskilled government worker must pay the equivalent of 0.3-7.9 day’s salary for treatment of one illness episode.
First Female President of FIP with a Focus on Education – Industrial Pharmacy Section addressing the educational needs for the pharmaceutical industry
Spanish pharmacist Carmen Peña was elected during the General Assembly as President of the International Pharmaceutical Federation. Dr. Peña, a community pharmacist from Madrid, has served FIP for over 20 years, including as a Vice-President since 2008.
In her election statement, Dr. Peña drew particular attention to the importance of the FIP Education Initiative, which works to transform pharmacy education so that societal and workforce needs around the world can be met.
“Building a pharmaceutical workforce that is competent, sustainable, accountable and respected by society and by our colleagues in other health professions will make our countries’ health systems more efficient by lowering morbidity, mortality and cost,” she said.
Industrial Pharmacy Section in FIP takes educational matters seriously and tries to bring experts together on a global level to address the possible gaps in the skillset of pharmacists entering the pharmaceutical industry. In the session “Is there a need to harmonize the training of industrial pharmacists?” industrial pharmacy professor Anne Juppo from the University of Helsinki concluded that in her view complete harmonisation is not possible, since the education should always take into account the needs of the industry which differ from country to another. Professor Juppo encouraged academia and industry to collaborate in education development, to use more of e-learning and to utilize teaching and student exchange to cross borders of countries in industrial pharmacy education.
For my part, I led the group of industrial pharmacists in the half-day event “Career opportunities in pharmaceutical industry” at the local university of Bangkok. I explained to the undergraduate pharmacy students how for example pharmacist’s skills can contribute in regulatory affairs departments either in the industry or in health authorities and what assets the pharmacist has in public affairs and policy settings. Additionally, pharmacists understand wide-ranging issues from healthcare- and patient-focused perspectives.
Overall, this year’s FIP Annual Congress proved extremely valuable. The variety of perspectives heard from professionals around the world and free exchange of ideas was of great interest.
Photo 1: The session “Do patents limit access to medicines” was well attended and Richard Bergström gave a balanced view on the need of patents without limiting access to the medicines.
Photo 2: “Career opportunities in pharmaceutical industry” was held by a group of Industrial Pharmacy Section Executive Committee members at the Chulalongkorn University of Bangkok.
Photo 3: New president of FIP Carmen Peña.
Photo 4: EFPIA together with Industrial Pharmacy Section of FIP organized a reception and networking opportunity for pharmacists interested in pharmaceutical industry.2