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Greece bans flu drug exports

By Gareth Macdonald, 04-May-2009

Related topics: Regulatory & Safety, Globalisation

 

Greek authorities have banned the export of the anti-virals Relenza and Tamiflu to prevent the country’s stockpile being sold off through parallel trade as global demand for the drugs increases on concerns about a H1N1 influenza pandemic.

 

According to a Reuters report, Greece’s Health Ministry has halted all export of the two drugs, made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Roche, until further notice despite the fact that no cases of H1N1 infection have been confirmed in the country.

Government price regulation means that the price of pharmaceuticals in Greece is often much lower than elsewhere in Europe. This has created a thriving parallel trade market where wholesalers buy significant quantities of drugs in the country and sell them elsewhere where prices are higher.

Ministry spokesman Kostas Maniatis was critical of such traders in light of growing concerns about a potential H1N1 pandemic, commenting that: “Some people have found an opportunity to make money out of the affair.”

While securing Greece’s supply of anti-virals, estimated to be sufficient to protect 12 per cent of the population, will be obviously be welcomed by public health officials, the decision is also likely to please Big Pharma firms.

Parallel trade in Greece

Multinational drugmakers have long criticised the level of parallel trading that occurs in Greece, with UK pharma firm GSK being one of the most vocal. The companies argue that government price controls hamstring their operating practices and hurt revenues.

Although concerns about a potential H1N1 pandemic may have brought the issue of parallel trade to a head in Greece, the tide may have been turning before the virus emerged as a problem.

A recent Business Monitor International (BMI) report revealed that while drug prices in Greece are not likely to increase over the next few years, the emergence of pharmaceutical markets where drugs are even cheaper is beginning to have an impact. The authors suggest that "parallel traders’ activities are being increasingly spread to new, low cost bases, such as Romania.”