Health and Science

GSK CEO Andrew Witty says drugmakers need to be empathetic and not try to defend price hikes

GSK CEO: Pharma firms need to be empathetic
GSK CEO: Pharma firms need to be empathetic

Drugmakers need to learn empathy and not try to defend price hikes that make drugs inaccessible, Andrew Witty, the chief executive of British pharmaceutical giant GSK, told CNBC.

"In all circumstance, we need to be realistic and empathetic, we need to demonstrate better that we understand people are concerned about [drug pricing]," Witty told CNBC on the sidelines of the Singapore Summit 2016.

"I'm not, for a second, going to sit here and defend any historical pricing position," he added.

Drug prices have come under scrutiny in recent months after Mylan received public backlash for the sharp price increases the Epipen, an injection device to treat fatal anaphylactic shocks from food allergies or insect bites. The price of a two-pack Epipen has risen to nearly $600, from just $100 in 2007.

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Pharmaceutical companies have also been a favorite target of both Democrat candidate and GOP nominee Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential elections campaign.

Trump has even commented about the potential savings that the U.S. Medicare program could reap if it negotiates directly with drug-makers, something currently prohibited by law. Last September, Clinton tweeted about the "price gorging" of Daraprim, a treatment often used by HIV/AIDS patients, drawing attention to Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals which owns the drug.

"There is a real issue here on affordability... it almost doesn't matter whether or not you can defend the price because if people can't afford it, that's what we have to focus on," Witty said.

"[Drug] pricing always has to be taken in a very responsible mindset to get the balance right between access and reward for innovation," he added.

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