Letter: Pharmaceutical threat

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The Independent Online
Sir: I see that the pharmaceutical industry is - yet again - threatening to pull out of Britain if the Government requires it to publish more information ("Ministers launch war on drug prices", 3 June).

The industry has a long tradition of over-reacting to modest proposals. In 1993, a new public right of access to information about drug safety was proposed in a private member's Bill: disclosure, of such information by the licensing authority was (and still is) a criminal offence. The British Pharma Group, a trade body representing the leading research companies, warned that unless one particular provision was removed, their members would no longer seek to launch their products in the UK "but apply to other EC licensing authorities instead". In an effort to address their concerns, the Bill's sponsor. Giles Radice MP, withdrew the clause. To everyone's astonishment the British Pharma Group responded in even more hysterical terms, warning that the revised Bill would "wreak real and lasting damage to the industry" and mean that "companies would probably simply cease to use" the UK licensing system. It appeared that, whatever the proposal, the industry had only one response.

Now ministers propose to ask for more information about the cost-effectiveness of NHS drugs. You quote an industry spokesman's reaction: "Many companies might be looking at whether their research is correctly based in this country." I hope ministers will recognise that going over the top is the pharmaceutical industry's routine response to change.

MAURICE FRANKEL

Director

The Campaign for Freedom of Information

London EC1

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