The NHS is spending millions of pounds on medicines that were discovered with taxpayer-funded research, in what has been branded a “rip-off” by major pharmaceutical companies on the British public.
Treatments for cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS) are among drugs that cost the cash-strapped NHS more than £1bn last year – despite public funding playing a substantial role in the medicines’ development.
A new report by STOP AIDS and Global Justice Now shines a light on the level of UK public money used to develop new drugs, with two out of five of the NHS’s most expensive drugs discovered using substantial public money.
The report states that a prostate cancer drug called Abiraterone, discovered and developed by the primarily publicly funded Institute of Cancer Research and later bought by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, now costs the NHS £98 per day per patient – despite a generic alternative being available for less than £4 per day per patient.
Another drug for arthritis, Infliximab, initially developed by universities in the US and UK with support from charity and industry funding, represented the fourth highest expenditure on a single medicine in the NHS in 2014/15, at £159m, after it was bought by Janssen Biotech. The following year NHS spend on the drug rose to £178m, according to the findings.
The UK Government is the second largest funder country of global health research and development after the US, and the report claims that the high prices charged by pharmaceutical companies are having a significant impact on national health budgets globally.
Overall, NHS spending on medicines has risen 29 per cent in the past five years and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has struggled to regulate the price of medicines.
Backed by more than 20 health and patient organisations, the report calls for greater transparency in drug pricing and a radical overhaul in the way the research and development of new medicines are funded.
Heidi Chow of Global Justice Now, one of the co-authors of the report, accused pharmaceutical companies of “ripping off” the British public, and urged the Government to take action to ensure that UK-funded research benefits public health globally rather than “lining corporate pockets”.
“Big pharmaceutical companies are ripping us off by taking over drugs developed primarily with public money and selling the drugs back to the NHS at extortionate prices. This is nothing short of daylight robbery of British taxpayers by some of the most profitable corporations in the world,” she said.
“As the NHS is on the brink of another winter crisis, it’s time for politicians to take a stand to ensure that drugs produced from publicly funded research are affordable for the NHS.
“Across the world, 10 million people are dying needlessly because they can’t afford vital medicines. The Government must take action to ensure that UK-funded research benefits public health globally rather than lining corporate pockets.”
Tabitha Ha of STOP AIDS, one of the co-authors of the report, said: “At a time when our NHS is already strapped for cash, we must end the scandal of the public effectively paying twice for the same medicine - first to develop it and then again to stock it.
“It’s not just British patients that are being delayed or denied the medicines they need either. Patients in the world’s poorest countries are being ripped off too, even when generic versions are available at a fraction of the price. We need greater transparency and a radical rethink on how we fund the development of new medicines.”
Responding to the claims, a spokesperson for Janssen, the subsidary of Johnson & Johnson that bought the cancer drug, said: “We’re working to bring transformational medicines to people in need. This is often a long and complex process, taking on average 12 years and costing more than £1bn to develop a new medicine.
“The pharmaceutical industry bears the high risk and high cost of drug development, which involves resourcing global clinical trials and navigating the complexities of numerous regulatory systems around the world. With only one in 5,000 molecules making it from lab to patient, academic and research institutions often partner with the pharmaceutical industry to realise the potential of their discoveries.
“Without the investment, global expertise and infrastructure of companies like Janssen, most medicines would not make it to patients.”
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