21st Oct 2016

Merck stops cancer drug supply to Greek hospitals

  • The pharmaceutical industry says it has contributed billions to crisis-hit EU countries (Photo:

German drug company Merck has halted life-saving cancer drug shipments to Greek public hospitals.

Its chief financial officer, Matthias Zachert told German paper Boersen-Zeitung on Saturday (3 November) that the crisis-struck country has not paid its bills.

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"It only affects Greece, where we have been faced with many problems. It's just the one product," he said.

Reuters reports that the cancer-fighting drug is called Erbitux. While the medication will no longer be available at public hospitals, Greeks can still purchase it directly from pharmacies.

The drug fights colorectal cancer and head and neck cancer and is Merck's second best-selling product. In 2011, it generated some €855 million in profits.

The Merck Group reported total revenue €2.8 billion in the second quarter of 2012, an 11.6 percent increase on quarter two last year.

An report in August by GlobalData, a market intelligence analysis group, said that pharmacies in Greece have dropped prices so that cash-strapped citizens can pay for them.

It added that the cheaper drugs have created a "lucrative export carry trade" for Greeks re-selling them over the border.

For its part, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries (Efpia), a Brussels-based trade body, on Sunday sent a letter to the Greek government with a plan to maintain drug supplies in light of its near-empty state coffers.

Efpia's text - seen by Reuters - says international drug companies would be willing to ship supplies to Greece if the government caps outpatient pharmaceutical expenditure at €2.9 billion in 2012.

The news agency says Efpia wants the Greek government to pay off its overdue bills and maintain a balanced sheet.

"Setting a growth cap or budget ceiling is not something we have ever liked to do in the past, but in the current environment it is better to do that and have some stability," Richard Bergstrom, Efpia's director general, told Reuters.

Efpia says Europe's pharmaceutical industry has contributed some €7 billion in the form of rebates and discounts between 2010 and 2011 to Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The figure represents around 8 percent of the industry's annual turnover in those markets.

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