Countermotion to BAYER shareholder meeting on May 27, 2015: The actions of the members of the Supervisory Board are not ratified
The MS drug BETAFERON generates sales of just under a billion euros, making it one of the most profitable medicines produced by the company BAYER. However, independent studies show that the drug is of little beneficial use. BAYER refuses to disclose all benefits it grants for doctors, specialist associations and self-help groups. Therefore, the actions of the Supervisory Board are not to be ratified.
The administration of interferons is often associated with severe side effects, including kidney problems (sometimes fatal), fever, muscle pain and depression.
According to the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), kidney damage can arise even years after the injections. Nonetheless, the majority of MS sufferers are pressured into therapy using BETAFERON or other interferons.
However, independent studies show that the treatment brings only minor benefit. For example, the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent network of doctors, scientists and patient representatives, analyzed 44 studies and concluded that "the cost/benefit relationship may be unfavorable".
Interferons are able to prevent a relapse in only 16 percent of those who have been newly diagnosed with the disease. In five out of six patients, they show no effect of any kind. In the case of chronic, relapsing-remitting MS, these drugs help in only 14 percent of cases. The University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf therefore comes to the conclusion that "notions of the effect of interferons are based on assumptions". According to the doctors in Hamburg, the drugs have no benefit of any kind in the case of multiple sclerosis which manifests from the onset without remission and relapse.
Many of those affected come to a similar conclusion. Within four years, 46 percent cease treatment with BETAFERON or other interferons. BAYER therefore tries to keep patients at it with a BETAPLUS program.
The medical journal The Lancet has also published a study into the effectiveness of interferons. In this, all randomized, placebo-controlled studies on relapsing-remitting MS underwent a precise evaluation. The authors come to the conclusion that the results are massaged by the large number of dropouts which are not taken into account in the analysis by the interferon studies. They conclude, therefore, that wide use of interferons cannot be justified. The meta-study comes to the conclusion that it "is a devastating development if the pharmaceutical companies involved are able to influence the analysis or prevent the publication of inconvenient results".
The long duration of treatment makes the segment particularly lucrative. Annual treatment costs per patient are between €15,000 and €20,000. This generates huge costs for health insurance schemes: according to the latest medicines report from the Barmer GEK health insurance provider, MS drugs are one of the major cost factors in medicines expenditure. The production of interferon drugs was originally very costly, which led to high drug prices. This price level remained the benchmark for all subsequent MS drugs, despite the fact that production costs have now fallen significantly.
BAYER no longer even produces the drug itself: in 2011 the Group closed a plant in Emeryville in the United States, destroyed 540 jobs and concluded a supply agreement with BOEHRINGER.
At the same time, BAYER has established the best of terms with doctors and specialist medical associations. For instance, 21 out of the 24 doctors who drew up the treatment guidelines for MS were already on the industry payroll. Benefits flowed for research projects as well as for presentations, advisory activity or work providing expert opinion. BAYER also binds MS self-help groups to itself through donations. It is on best terms, too, with the Deutsche Multiple Sklerose Gesellschaft (DMSG) thanks to extensive investments. For example, in 2013 BAYER paid more than 55,000 euros to the DMSG. BAYER can rely in particular on the chairman of the DMSG's medical advisory committee (Ärztlicher Beirat), Professor Reinhard Hohlfeld: Professor Hohlfeld has worked as a scientific advisor to BAYER and has received several lots of research funding. Professor Hohlfeld was involved in formulating the treatment guidelines and is co-editor of a number of specialist MS journals. His fellow DMSG medical advisory committee management board members Ralf Gold, Peter Rieckmann and Heinz Wiendl are also pretty much best friends with BAYER and coauthors of the guidelines. It is therefore not surprising that the DMSG only certifies MS centers that follow the guidelines, and remains loyal to interferons.
Back in 2006, the medical expert Dr. Wolfgang Weihe complained in the Deutsches Ärzteblatt medical magazine about the close links which the DMSG and the authors of the guidelines have with the industry, and expressed doubt as to the impartiality of their preference for interferons. The empire struck back immediately: the DMSG applied for an injunction. It is by such means that the phalanx comprised of the industry, specialist associations and willing medical experts manufactures consent. For this reason hardly anyone in the sector dares to express a contrary opinion.