Campaigners welcome NHS England call for 'more regulation' of drug pricing

Sunday, 22 October, 2017
  • Statement to BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates follows report finding £1bn NHS spend on publicly-researched drugs
  • King’s College London professor says drugs companies are ‘knowingly overpricing their drugs’
  • St Andrews professor calls MS drug company “unethical”, “greedy” and “morally corrupt”

Campaign groups Global Justice Now and STOPAIDS have welcomed a statement by NHS England to the BBC’s 5 Live Investigates this morning that “further regulatory action may be needed” on drug pricing at a time when NHS funding is under severe pressure. (1)

The statement follows a report by Global Justice Now and STOP AIDS which found that the NHS spent £1 billion in 2016 on drugs where public funding played a substantial role in their development, including treatments for cancer, arthritis and MS. The report, Pills and Profits: How drug companies make a killing out of public research, was released today and featured on the programme.

Global Justice Now campaigner Morten Thaysen said:
“This is a welcome recognition from NHS England that government needs to step in to stop drug companies making huge unjustifiable profits from public research. We need to see an end to the days where public institutions hand over scientific findings to drug companies with little or no strings attached. Medical research is there to save lives, not act as a cash cow for big corporations. The current system has lost sight of that.”

Tabitha Ha of STOPAIDS said:
“We are delighted that NHS England are not shying away from the complexity of this issue and are calling for further regulatory action. Hearing Big Pharma tell patients that ‘It’s not that simple’ is simply not good enough when people’s lives are at stake.”

“There is real momentum building behind reforms now. Both in the UK and across the world, as the world’s poorest countries are being ripped off too. We must fight to ensure that public health needs are put first.”

Diarmaid McDonald of patient campaign Just Treatment said:
"We're currently campaigning to get Pfizer to charge a price for breast cancer drug, palbociclib, that the NHS can afford. If they don't drop the price then the government should use its power - known as a crown use licence - to secure a fairly priced generic version. Whenever prices are unfair we should put the companies monopolies at risk not the lives of patients."


5 Live Investigates also interviewed Professor RIchard Sullivan of King’s College London who said some drugs companies had "knowingly overpriced" their drugs. St Andrews Professor John Zajicek called one pharmaceutical company “unethical”, “greedy” and stood by a previous claim that they were “morally corrupt” (2).

Notes:

1. The BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates programme is available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099vz73

The NHS England statement to 5 Live Investigates was:
“It is essential that drugs companies price their products responsibly. The public backlash against price gouging in various countries including the United States has underlined the need for continuing vigilance on this issue. Although the responsibility for how prices are set for medicines lies with the Department for Health and in general the system delivers value for money for patients, we are concerned about pricing anomalies at a time when the NHS needs to make significant savings, which suggests further regulatory action may be needed.”

2. Professor Richard Sullivan, Professor of Cancer Policy and Global Health at King’s College London, told 5 Live Investigates:
“I don’t think there’s a single case where a cancer drug for cancer patients has been developed entirely using private money only within the private sector, it’s just never happened… Pricing is a very complex dark art because it’s essentially set based on how many returns can be generated within the patent life cycle. … We have a lot of companies which overprice their drugs for the impact that they actually deliver in terms of outcomes. … When a drug is refused by NICE, there’s only one reason which is the company has overpriced that drug and they’ve knowingly overpriced it.”

Professor John Zajicek of St Andrews University, whose patients were being treated by MS drug alemtuzumab before it was withdrawn and repriced, told 5 Live Investigates:
“We found that the behaviour of the pharmaceutical company was really rather unethical and we were trying to find a way for this drug to be used for our patients and pleading against the withdrawal of this drug… To bring the drug back in at that price I think will generate a colossal amount of money for the company to the point I think of being rather greedy. It makes me feel very angry and sad for my patients. Obviously we try as doctors to fight hard for our patients to have access to treatments and increasingly in the NHS it’s getting more difficult.” Asked whether he would stand by a previous statement that the company was "morally corrupt", he said: "I would yes absolutely."

3. Global Justice Now campaigns for a world where resources are controlled by the many, not the few. See http://www.globaljustice.org.uk

STOPAIDS is a membership network of 70 organisations with a distinguished thirty-year history of engagement on international development and HIV and AIDS. See http://www.stopaids.org.uk

Just Treatment is a new campaign demanding that fair access to medicines comes before drug company profits. See http://justtreatment.org