Last week Jürgen Windeler was named successor to the outgoing chief of the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare (IQWiG), the body which conducts cost-benefit assessments on drugs and treatments on behalf of the government.
It recommends which treatments should be covered by statutory health insurers, and decisions made by the health ministry on that advice can be worth hundreds of millions to pharmaceutical companies.
This makes the head of IQWiG a very controversial position, as demonstrated by the fate of its first holder, Peter Sawicki.
His contract was not renewed, ending his tenure there this summer, in a move widely considered as the new government exerting influence against him for his open criticism of the pharma industry.
Although he was accused of irregularities in his expenses, there was widespread uproar over his effective dismissal, with allegations that the government and Health Minister Philipp Rösler were pandering to the pharma lobby.
Pressure remains enormous to reduce statutory spending on drugs, and Rösler has since angered the pharma industry by introducing savings plans which will cost the industry more than a billion euros a year in reduced turnover.
Windeler is an evidence-based medicine expert, and his appointment to succeed Sawicki has been largely seen as less of a sop to the pharma industry than had been anticipated by many.
Although he will not start work there until September, he is starting to lay out his opinions in the media.
“The number of 50,000 medication variations could perhaps be reduced to a tenth without any loss of quality – in any case down to fewer than 10,000,” he told Focus magazine at the weekend.
He said useless treatments should no longer be paid for by statutory insurers.
“That would make room for real advances,” he said.