New drugs 'delayed to cut costs' says GSK boss
Saturday 25 February 2012
The head of Britain biggest drugs company has accused the Government of systematically delaying the introduction of new cancer drugs in order to save money.
GLaxoSmithKline chief executive Sir Andrew Witty warned that ministers were making false economies as they tried to grapple with the deficit in the public finances.
In an interview with the BBC, he said that governments across Europe had already cut drug prices by 5% a year - costing GSK around £300 million per annum.
However, he said governments were now seeking to go further in an effort to achieve even bigger savings - and he highlighted Britain's decision to delay new cancer treatments.
"The bit I'm much more frightened about is that what's now beginning to become clear is that, in addition to price reductions, governments are delaying the approval of innovative new drugs," he said.
"So a second way they can save money, they think, is 'Let's just not buy the next round of innovation'.
"Cancer in the UK is a good example where we're seeing oncology drugs being systematically delayed from introduction and reimbursement.
"We are seeing a variety of the more innovative and more expensive medicines being delayed in a whole series of different diseases across Europe."
Sir Andrew accused governments of treating the pharmaceuticals industry as a "simple procurement business" without understanding the wider implications of their decisions.
"As governments have got more and more anxious about their debt positions and austerity agendas, what happened is quite predictable," he said.
"If you are a minister and you need to cut costs, it is a lot easier to cut drug prices than it is to close a hospital or reduce the size of the Civil Service. I understand that.
"The issue here is, of course, if you don't buy the new drug it is going to save you money in the drug bill. But the drug bill is only 8% to 10% of the total healthcare bill and what is being lost in this stampede for cost cut is any kind of strategic thoughtfulness."
Professor Jonathan Waxman, of Imperial College London, said a number of new cancer drugs had been blocked by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which assesses the cost-effectiveness of new treatments.
"In my view, Nice has over-regulated and proscribed drugs that offer real advances to people with cancer," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"In my particular area of specialisation, which is prostate cancer, we have had two new drugs become available over the last year and a half which offer real benefits for patients.
"I would argue that they have been disallowed - banned - by Nice on the basis of an assessment which is not a true financial costing of the worth of the drugs."
He warned that drug companies may soon no longer find it worthwhile to seek approval for their products in Britain.
"The regulation is such in this country that it is not worthwhile for the drug companies making the effort of actually negotiating with our regulatory authorities for the sale of their products in the UK. It is a complete loss-leader for them - waste of time," he said.
"We are going to have a situation in the UK where drugs are not available for our patients. It is a disaster. Someone just needs to sort this out."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The Government has increased spending on health, which includes new drugs, and thousands more patients are getting access to the most advanced treatments.
"This includes the 11,000 extra patients who have benefited from the setting up of our £650 million Cancer Drugs Fund.
"The need for careful assessment of drugs' effectiveness by Nice is particularly important for patients and taxpayers during a time of economic austerity.
"The Government has not changed any assessment processes relating to cancer drugs.
"Furthermore, drug companies need to look hard at the high costs they are asking of the health service for their latest treatments."
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