Litigation culture threatens future of drugs industry, MPs warned

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The Independent Online

Drugs companies will withdraw vital medicines and cut investment in research and development of new ones if the threat of litigation and public hostility continues, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has warned.

The powerful Commons Health Committee will listen this week as AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the ABPI, respond to criticisms of the way the industry exerts its influence over GPs and patients.

It is the largest review of the industry for years. The committee, which in previous sessions has heard accusations of "disease mongering" against the industry, plans to make its recommendations to the Government in March.

Dr Richard Barker, the director general of the ABPI, said that some companies may decide it is not worth the legal and financial risk of launching new drugs if they are liable for any side effects patients experience.

The industry's level of investment in R&D did not increase last year for the first time for two decades, he added.

"For companies to continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars we need to have an environment which understands the industry and acts responsibly when negative information emerges," he said.

"If not, we might not have investment in different areas like cancer, Alzheimer's and mental diseases like depression.

"The aggressive programme of class-action suits which have emerged must be factored into a company's decision-making. A major shift of perception in risk and benefit would be detrimental. Almost all drugs have side effects."

The industry has been hit by a wave of class-action suits from patient groups, accusations that negative clinical data has been withheld and safety fears over a number of drugs which have been taken off the market.

Drug associations in the UK, US and Japan promised last week to publish data on completed and current drugs trials, voluntarily, on the internet.

The Health Committee's latest hearing is the penultimate one in its six-month inquiry. David Hinchcliffe MP, the Labour chairman of the committee, said it would focus on the way companies develop and market new drugs.