Internal documents show Pharma lobby promoting commercial interests during corona pandemic

New research by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals how pharma industry lobbying is putting profit before an effective pandemic response. The investigation uncovered dozens of documents via Freedom of Information requests, including minutes from weekly calls between Big Pharma and the European Commission held during the pandemic.

The new publication shows how Big Pharma, despite lofty PR statements about their commitment to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, is lobbying intensively to protect its problematic, profit-maximising business-model.

This model is partly based on public money with no strings attached and excessive monopoly patent rules. Big Pharma, for instance, lobbied against the joint procurement of treatments in Europe, a tool intended to prevent excessive prices. Pharma industry lobbyists also pushed arguments based on fear and scarcity to win lucrative advance purchase agreements (APAs) for potential new vaccines.

The EU and pharma companies are currently negotiating APAs for millions of doses of vaccines that may or may not prove successful. These lucrative deals are being negotiated in the dark, and use public money to remove financial risk and – worryingly – liability from pharma companies developing COVID-19 vaccines. All this without corresponding public interest conditions related to prices and availability.

To shed some much needed light on these secretive negotiations, CEO has filed two new Freedom of Information requests to the European Commission, requesting access to the vaccine deal contracts and asking for all correspondence and minutes from meetings between the EU's vaccine deal negotiators and the pharmaceutical companies.

Big pharma is one of the most powerful lobbying actors in the EU capital Brussels, enjoying remarkable political access and spending massive amounts on lobbying. CEO’s investigation shows that the top ten biggest-spending pharmaceutical companies report spending between €14.75 and €16.5 million per year on lobbying in Brussels. Combined, the industry employs around 175 lobbyists working to influence EU decision-making.

During the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry has further increased its political access and influence in EU decision-making. There are clear signs that the industry wants regulatory flexibilities put in place during the crisis, and for its increased political access to become ‘the new normal’.

Corporate Europe Observatory’s researcher Olivier Hoedeman stated:

“During the pandemic, Big Pharma has used the unprecedented access it was given to defend its privileges and promote its own narrow regulatory agenda. Not all of industry’s lobbying demands have been granted, but Big Pharma has manoeuvred itself into an excessively privileged position in the ongoing vaccine deal negotiations. It's unacceptable that lucrative vaccine deals are being negotiated in the dark, with even the names of the key negotiators kept secret. The public interest must override ‘commercial confidentiality’ during a global pandemic, for the sake of patient safety and public trust.”

“EU decision-makers must do more to protect the public interest, starting with securing transparency around the vaccine negotiations and the contracts signed with the pharmaceutical industry. EU decision-making on public health care and R&D for medicines must be better protected from the influencing attempts by pharmaceutical companies and their lobby groups.” 

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Notes to editors:

Contact:

Olivier Hoedeman, olivier@corporateeurope.org, +32 (0) 2893 0930