When it’s licensed its called medicine, when it’s unlicensed it’s a drug. So in order to maximize the profits and minimize the risk of a prison sentence, it pays to register yourself as a pharmaceutical company.

NH21 Weekly genuinely seeks to build bridges between the worlds of clinical and complementary healthcare, and really does not wish to be perceived as yet another ‘lefty’ shouting about the ills of Big Pharma. It is certain that in times of need, medicine saves lives.

But please… must it be so blatant that the general public are being lied to and manipulated by the very people entrusted with their healthcare!?

This week saw the European Commission, an institution responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties; launch a formal investigation into Aspen Pharma’s pricing practices for cancer medicines.

Aspen Pharma, or Aspen “Holdings” as they are also known, is a multinational South African holding company for pharmaceutical concerns, and the largest drug company in Africa.

According to its own sonnet, Aspen has a “proud heritage dating back more than 160 years” and is “committed to sustaining life and promoting healthcare through increasing access to its high quality affordable medicines and products.” (1)

Providing of course, it takes good care of its own financial health first.

Aspen has a market capitalisation of approximately US$10 billion, is the largest pharmaceutical company listed on the JSE Limited, and ranks among the top 20 listed companies on this exchange.

In addition to its “proud heritage” on the African continent, Aspen has an expanding presence in Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, comprising Russia and the former Soviet Republics. Aspen is also one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Australia, and is establishing a presence in other developed markets such as the United States of America and Canada.

With an “extensive basket of products” that provide treatment for a broad spectrum of acute and chronic conditions, Aspen apparently “continues to increase the number of lives benefiting from its products, reaching more than 150 countries across the world.” (2)

PRODUCTS

What Aspen crudely describes to investors as products in its basket, others understand to be life-saving cancer treatments. And the European Commission has now opened a formal investigation into concerns that the group has engaged in excessive pricing concerning five life-saving cancer medicines. (3)

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said;

“When we get sick, we may depend on specific drugs to save or prolong our lives. And when the price of a drug suddenly goes up by several hundred percent, this is something the Commission may look at. More specifically, in this case we will be assessing whether Aspen is breaking EU competition rules by charging excessive prices for a number of medicines.”

The medicines in question are used for treating cancer, such as hematologic (blood borne) tumours. They are sold with different formulations and under multiple brand names. Aspen acquired these medicines after their patent protection had expired; not unlike buying up used cars, giving them a bit of spit-and-polish, and selling on for a profit.

The Commission will investigate information indicating that Aspen has imposed very significant and unjustified price increases. Aspen has threatened to withdraw the medicines should their demands not be met; which, in some countries it has actually done so already.

Committed to sustaining life, indeed…

HEALTH SCIENCE

As nutritional sciences pioneer T. Colin Campbell noted in his 2013 publication Whole;

“There’s a lot of money to be made in cancer treatment.” (4)

He added;

“Society embraces the sentimental notion, promoted by Big Pharma, that the industry is a selfless group of scientists motivated solely by an intellectual hunger and desire to serve humankind, toiling away to discover a cure for cancer.”

Big Pharma is an industry, make no mistake, and its constituent members are businesses. There is no profit for them if people are healthy, and people are so scared of getting sick that they’ll pay whatever it costs if they can be persuaded that a certain protocol is the best one for their particular condition.

It’s a cash-cow, catch-22 that is music to the ears of Aspen, who have clearly identified the African continent as their most fertile field. The company supplies more than 650 branded medicines, specializing in generics and treatments for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, two of the most prevalent, and most feared diseases among the populace here.

Between 2009 and 2016 Aspen’s share price rose more than 650% when British pharmaceutical company GSK sold its shares in Aspen; earning them about £1.5billion, and making a mockery of its previous fine for price-gouging in Italy in October 2016, where it paid an relatively insignificant $5.5million to settle a complaint similar to the one currently being made by the European Commission.

PROUD HERITAGE

As a dietary advisor, NH21 often highlights the need to read the actual ingredients list of a food item, rather than the proclamations of health benefits presented on the front-of-label packaging. Clients are regularly alarmed at the clear and obvious disparity between what is promoted on the outside of the box, and what is really found on the inside.

This natural health practitioner is equally alarmed at the times the client continues to consume the product even after the realization that it is not what it claims to be.

The same might also be said of Alpha’s pharmaceuticals. Before committing your cash, and your health, to the good-nature of the billionaire shareholders of JSE top-20 enterprises; why not ask exactly what it is they are offering?

Aspen’s own ‘Sustainability Overview’ states its vision is;

“To deliver value to all stakeholders (i.e. not the patients) as a responsible corporate citizen (i.e. not healthcare provider) that provides high quality, affordable products globally, encapsulates the Group’s inherent approach of conducting business ethically, with integrity and with a commercial wisdom which strives to enhance the economic and social well-being of its investors, employees, customers and business partners.”

Call me a cynic, but I don’t feel particularly well cared for in that scenario, which is as unashamed as it is chilling, yet somehow pertains to the public understanding of effective healthcare.

It is surely time now, to set aside the desperate search for a magic bullet that will cure all disease; an approach that plays directly into the hands of Big Pharma. It is time to pause, take a deep breath, and reevaluate; to work methodically and logically from a multidimensional viewpoint of health.

If we are to transform the system, and ensure that profits, although required for ongoing research, are not the primary objective of medical manufacturers, we must begin by transforming ourselves as individuals. We have a choice. Let us broaden our view of healthcare, and start to ask critical questions of the companies currently in charge supplying our doctors with the ‘products’ they pass on to us when we are at our most vulnerable and most in need of help.

References:

  1. http://www.aspenpharma.com
  2. http://www.aspenpharma.com/investor-overview/
  3. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1323_en.htm
  4. Campbell, Colin (2013) Whole, BenBella Books