The ALEXM project: fighting the supremacy of Big pharma

Euroconsumers is proud to present the Antitrust Law Enforcement for Medicines (ALEXM) project, work developed by its member organizations Altroconsumo and Test-Achats/Test-Ankoop thanks to the support of Open Society Foundations (OSF). The project was launched to raise public awareness on the impact of the unethical conduct of pharmaceutical companies on patient’s rights to access affordable healthcare. Its follow-up ALEXM 2, was conducted at an ideal time to raise public awareness on crucial issues for consumers in a context where the covid pandemic has put the spotlight on the challenges posed by the pharmaceutical industry. Altroconsumo and Test Achats will pursue their fight against the abuse of market power from the pharmaceutical industry with the third wave of the project, named ALEXM 3.

Why did we start ? 

In recent years, the prices of some medicines have been skyrocketing. This puts a huge financial pressure on our health systems and could deprive patients of the treatments they need. However, national competition authorities are often reluctant to intervene in the market of patented medicines because of the “innovation argument”. This is why the project ALEXM was launched: to fight for medicines to become affordable and accessible to all.

What are the tools used?

Altroconsumo and Test Achats rely on an extensive use of antitrust law enforcement to fight for a future of affordable access to medicines. Indeed, competition cases are a concrete and effective way to raise attention on relevant problems such as:

  • the lack of transparency on prices of new medicines, or on the real costs of innovation that most of the time don’t justify such high prices;
  • the abuse of incentives, created to stimulate innovation, that eventually hinder access and innovation as well;
  • the missing public return on investments made by the public sector to support medicines’ development.

When did we start ?

The ALEXM project was born in June 2018 in Italy and Belgium, the countries were Euroconsumers members Altroconsumo and Test-Achats/Test-Ankoop operate. Our member organisations launched complaints at national competition authorities about medicines with a very high price, namely the CDCA Leadiant, and Spinraza. In both cases, their analyses had concluded that the medicine’s price was hugely and disproportionately high, therefore badly damaging consumers’ access to medicines.

The CDCA Leadiant case

The CDCA Leadiant is an off-patent medicine repurposed as an orphan medicine and newly tagged with a very high price. Thanks to a 10 years protection from competition due to the fact the medicine cures an extremely rare illness, Leadiant increased its price five hundred times. Euroconsumers members’ complaints against the CDCA Leadiant led in both countries to an investigation from the competent national Competition Authority.

The Spinraza case  

The Spinraza medicine is also indicated for a rare and very serious disease – spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) – that had no effective therapeutic options at the time of Spinraza’s authorization. Its price was also extremely high and not justified by the financial efforts made by the company to develop it. Despite Euroconsumers members’ complaints, no investigation was opened so far. Altroconsumo and Test Achats/Test Ankoop will continue following the development of these cases.

The continuation of the ALEXM project

With the follow-up of ALEXM rolling from 30 June 2020 to 31 March 2021, Altroconsumo and Test Achats/Test Ankoop thanks to OSF grant continued raising the attention on the problem of excessive pricing of innovative medicines and investigating situations of abuse of market power from pharmaceutical companies. This second version also analyses the new case of Zolgensma, the second pharmacologic treatment coming on the market with an indication for SMA after Spinraza.

We focused on covid crisis monitoring, too. Our members Test Achats and Altroconsumo also tackle new potential issues that emerged with the explosion of the covid pandemic to ensure access to affordable diagnostic tests, effective protection devices, effective treatments and more recently, vaccinations. The project also monitors emerging unethical conducts or market abuses, protects consumers from products with false claims on covid and raises public awareness about the concept of affordability and price transparency also through public debates.

The result of a collaboration with BEUC

Over the last year, the relevance of our member organisations’ collaboration with BEUC has increased during the covid pandemic, as vaccines, testing kits and treatments were urgently needed to tackle covid. BEUC took this window of opportunity to successfully work to relay concerns over sky-high medicine prices at EU level. Together, they followed the European vaccine strategy, in order to ensure:

  • universal access to safe and effective vaccination;
  • adequate information on vaccine characteristics;
  • transparency on terms and conditions of any agreements concluded with vaccine developers;
  • swift compensation in the event of safety incident.

Never give up 

Building on the achievements of this campaign Euroconsumers members’ Altroconsumo and Test-Achats/Test Ankop have launched a third wave of ALEXM on 1 June 2021. The objectives of the so called ALEXM 3 align with those of the previous projects, namely:

  • raising awareness to the abuse of market power and unethical conduct of pharmaceutical companies;
  • promoting sustainable access to medicines and vaccines;
  • protect consumers from abuses and predatory behaviour.

This time however Altroconsumo and Test Achats/Test Ankoop will put a strong emphasis on monitoring covid-related developments. This third wave also aims at continuing to follow the competition cases that were launched in the previous ALEXM projects 1 and 2 on the CDCA Leadiant, Spinraza, and Zolgensma. In the end, drugs are not goods like others, especially they are not jewels.