When it comes to drug prices, pharmaceutical researcher Simon van der Schans (27) feels that it is unfair to point an accusing finger at the pharmaceutical companies. “Innovation costs money. New medicines will only be developed if people invest in them, but those investments must be made more transparent.” And that is often lacking among pharmaceutical companies. An interview with Fair Medicine’s youngest researcher
Simon van der Schans (1991) came to Fair Medicine for his Master’s internship in Medical Pharmaceutical Science, and never looked back. “I think that society would benefit from more transparency in pharmaceutical development. Fair Medicine can play an important role in that.”
Why is Fair Medicine a good idea?
“I see Fair Medicine as a disruptor. We want to do things in a fundamentally different way. That’s important, because the debate about the price of medications in the Netherlands is very stagnant. Health care is threatening to become too expensive. Governments, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and hospitals all talk about the problem, but Fair Medicine is actually trying to offer an alternative. Collaboration between all of the parties involved, shared investments, and actually offering new products where there is an urgent need; those are all things that appeal to me. Not just saying that things need to be done differently, but actually rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.”
What is the problem with today’s pharmaceutical market?
“If I learned anything during my studies in Medical Pharmaceutical Science, it’s that the cost structure in the pharmaceutical sector is much too complex. It would be unfair to point an accusing finger at the pharmaceutical companies and say that medicine is too expensive. Innovation costs money. The development of new drugs is expensive, and there is a fine line between success and failure. New medicines will only be developed if people invest in them, but those investments must be made more transparent.”
Do pharmaceutical companies provide enough transparency as to how drug prices are determined?
“As a scientist, I have to say: no. The big pharmaceutical companies provide some general information about their investments in research and innovation, but it is rarely linked to a specific product. As a researcher, I can’t obtain the information I need to objectively verify that what they say about the costs of developing medications is true. Naturally, every company has to secure its competitive position, and therefore protect its data, but medications are paid for from public funds, so the profit margins of pharmaceutical companies are a recurring issue in admitting new medicines.”
Can Fair Medicine change all that?
“Fair Medicine can mainly help patient populations that are not served by the current system. By involving more parties in the financing and development, and by abiding by the rules of the charter, Fair Medicine will be able to provide more insight into the costs and profit margins.”
How did you start working with Fair Medicine?
“When I was studying in Groningen, I read the pharmaceutical memo that former Minister of Public Health, Welfare and Sport Edith Schippers sent to the Dutch House of Representatives. The memo mentioned Fair Medicine as a party with an alternative business model. I immediately sent them an e-mail, and they invited me to do an internship right away. I’m currently working on a number of products that I can’t talk about right now. But it already looks very promising!”
Do you plan on earning a PhD on the pharmaceutical market?
“I just happen to have had a meeting with Fair Medicine and the University of Groningen, and they will probably work together to support my PhD research. So I think there’s a good chance!”