Vittorio Agnoletto does not regret his native Milan lost out to Amsterdam in the bid to replace London as home of the European Medicines Agency. His concerns lie elsewhere
The European Medicines Agency will move to Amsterdam, it has been decided by a draw. This has left a bitter taste in the mouth of Italians who had supported Milan’s candidacy.
As a Milanese, as well as an Italian, there was no reason for me not to support my city’s bid. EMA’s presence could have raised the profile of Milan and brought jobs linked to the drugs industry.
But my support has been lukewarm over these past weeks. I have not been enthused. The debate on the geographical location of EMA, as it has been, has appeared one-sided, a mirror of a logic that once again focussed on industry interests that revolve around drug manufacturing.
In fact, we have debated the container but not the content. As well as arguing over the name of the city that should have hosted the new venue, it would have been good for governments to discuss the role, the way the agency works and its function. It plays a key role in the health of 500 million European citizens, if only because it decides which medicines can enter the market and for which diseases.
For example, as has recently been highlighted by a pool of scientists across Europe, Ema does not conduct independent research to evaluate the efficacy of a drug or to analyze the side effects of a drug or vaccine reported by the national agencies responsible for detecting these side effects (in the countries where these agencies are located). Ema’s judgments are based only on the research submitted by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drug or vaccine in question. There is no possibility for the European Agency to carry out independent research and compare its results with those presented by Big Pharma. This is for the simple reason that European states do not have the necessary funds.
It would also be good to know what the guarantees are about the absence of a conflict of interest between those working for international health agencies such as EMA and those working for drug multinationals.
The story of the H1N1 influenza epidemic is still too recent; in 2009, EU countries spent hundreds of millions of euros to buy drugs against a non-existent epidemic, but found out that the representatives of the pharmaceutical companies involved were sitting in the committees of the World Health Organisation that had launched the alert.
The geographical proximity to Milan between Ema’s location and the future Human Technopole project entrusted to Big Pharma’s giants and large multinational companies with interests in patents on the genome, would be a major concern and not for the type of enthusiasm exhibited by Diana Bracco, representative of the industrialists in the committee overseeing the bid to bring Ema to Milan.
Let’s not forget that the first move towards the new seat was the agreement – discovered by Il Fatto Quotidiano – by which our government guaranteed to IBM that it would provide it with all the health data, initially of Lombardy, and then the entire Italian population. Big databases in the hands of IBM with which, together with the drug and seed giants, the US multinational will be able to develop research on the genome – and I fear that the times are approaching when parts of the human being will be privatized, as were seeds and plants that for centuries were present only in nature.
These enormous projects are furthermore developed out of any democratic control; they talk about a future based on personalized medicine but personalised for whom? Whose future? When today the majority of the human population cannot even access medicine already available.
In the pharmaceutical field today we also need research to be supranational, but it must also be public, independent and geared to the urgent needs of public health. We need updated rules on clinical trials and criteria for the approval of new medicines. Countries and international agencies must have the courage to denounce the massive consequences of patents, the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), which guarantee for twenty years a monopoly over producing a drug to the company that first produced it, leading to the madness that a cycle of cancer treatments costs over 100,000 euros.
None of this entered the debate on the new EMA seat. Yet these are the themes around which depend the care of European citizens. And they are the issues which civil society organisations have been raising for years in the face of the indifference of governments, including my own.
Source: Il Fatto Quotidiano
Translation by Revolting Europe