It wants to cut the time taken to process applications by drug companies that want to switch products from prescription-only to OTC sale, and is telling general practitioners, where appropriate, to ask patients to buy their own medicines rather than issue prescriptions for them.
Drug companies have traditionally concentrated on the prescription market because it offers profit margins two or three times as high as do OTC products.
Increasingly, however, the industry is looking at the OTC market to replace profits lost as governments seek to cut healthcare bills.
Jim Furniss, head of the pharmaceuticals division of the Department of Health, told a London conference yesterday: 'Self-medication is an idea whose time has come.'
Shares in Wellcome surged 11p to 786p after the company said research had shown its experimental anti-viral drug valaciclovir, known as Valtrex, was more effective against shingles than acyclovir, marketed under the brand name Zovirax.Reuse content