The Central Court of Appeal No. 4 of Madrid has found in favour of Salud por Derecho, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU) and the Council for Transparency and Good Governance in our legal dispute with the Ministry of Health and the company Gilead. The Government and the pharmaceutical company had gone to the courts to attempt to avoid the publication of the price and economic impact on the public purse of remdesivir, a medicine to combat Covid-19, marketed by Gilead under the name Veklury.
In March 2022, Salud por Derecho and the OCU, on behalf of the No es Sano campaign, presented a series of applications to the Ministry of Health through the Transparency Portal. In these applications, we requested access to the real prices of different medicines, primarily new, higher-cost medicines, and to ascertain their impact on the public purse. However, the Ministry refused to share this information, arguing the prices of medicines are confidential, thus mirroring the opaque approach of the pharmaceutical industry in relation to transactions it makes with the Government.
Having received this refusal, we appealed to the Council of Transparency, which found in our favour and called on the Ministry of Health to share the information. In response, the Government, together with Gilead, opted to take the case to the courts by lodging an appeal in a bid to maintain secrecy around the price of remdesivir. The Ministry of Health also took similar legal action on the price of the medicine lanadelumab (Takhzyro), although it is yet to finalise that procedure.
The sentence on remdesivir is not yet final and can be appealed in the coming 15 days. The text of the ruling states that releasing the price and the budgetary impact of remdesivir does not violate the protection of economic and commercial interests or professional secrecy, or indeed intellectual property or confidentiality, as has been maintained over this time by both the company and the Ministry. It also makes reference to a recent ruling by the National High Court which sustains that knowledge of the price of a certain medicine “greatly surpasses the particular interest of the individual laboratory that such information is not offered on the basis of its own particular interest”.
This constitutes a very important step forward in the area of transparency. “Citizens have a right to know how much of their taxes are used to pay for medicines. Private interests cannot outweigh the public interest and this ruling upholds that”, assures Vanessa López, director of Salud por Derecho. “It has taken us two years to get here. Transparency in the pricing and financing of pharmaceuticals cannot be something that comes at the stroke or a court ruling. We need the Administration to adopt a more pro-active approach that provides for accountability before our citizens”, she added.
“It is crucial that we continue to make progress in transparency. This type of information, referring to the approval and financing of medicines and therapies is of public interest, and should be available to users”, states Ileana Izverniceanu, Director of Communication and Institutional Relations of the OCU.
Transparency step by step
This ruling in favour of the organisations behind the No es Sano campaign comes after other recent rulings which also found in favour of the Fundación Civio with regard to its applications for the price and financing conditions of medicines like Luxturna and Zolgensmam, processes which are similar to the Veklury case and have culminated in judicial decisions..
However, this is not the first case that has concluded in favour of No es Sano. For the organisations behind the campaign, transparency is a priority. In 2018, the company Novartis tried to prevent the Ministry of Health from publishing the price of Kymriah, a novel therapeutic procedure, framed within the so-called cellular immunotherapies (CAR-T), to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, through another contentious administrative appeal. In that ruling, the judge pointed out that the Ministry should have listened to the pharmaceutical company and heard its arguments at the beginning of the procedure. The litigation was therefore stalled due to procedural error. On his occasion, the scales tipped in favour of the public interest.