Labour would found state drug company to make medicines cheaper

Pharmaceutical companies receiving state funds for research to be required to make their medicines affordable

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 24 September 2019 17:25 BST
Labour leader at Brighton conference following Supreme Court judgement
Labour leader at Brighton conference following Supreme Court judgement (Reuters)

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A Labour government would establish a state-funded generic drug manufacturer to make life-saving medicines affordable to all, Jeremy Corbyn has announced.

And he said that private drugs companies will be required to keep prices down as a condition of receiving public funding for research.

Speaking to Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, Mr Corbyn singled out the cystic fibrosis drug called Orkambi, claiming that its manufacturer Vertex Pharmaceuticals was refusing to sell it to the NHS at an affordable price.

In hushed tones, he told delegates that he had met a nine-year-old boy named Luis Walker in Brighton who would benefit from the drug but who was denied access to it because of the price demanded by its manufacturer.

Mr Corbyn said: “Luis, and tens of thousands of others suffering from illnesses such as cystic fibrosis hepatitis C and breast cancer are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for shareholders before people’s lives.

“Labour will tackle this. We will redesign the system to serve public health - not private wealth - using compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines.

“We’ll tell the drugs companies that if they want public research funding then they’ll have to make their drugs affordable for all. “And we will create a new publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS saving our health service money and saving lives.

“We are the party that created the NHS. Only Labour can be trusted with its future.”

Aides later said that the policy would deliver savings to the NHS by reducing the bill for drugs like Orkambi, which a Labour source said was priced at £104,000 a year per patient.

But the scale of the saving could not currently be estimated because of industry secrecy about the cost of developing drugs, they said. Labour's plans would enforce greater transparency about the true cost of medicines and the size of mark-ups being demanded from the NHS.

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The use of compulsory licensing would allow the NHS to gain access to generic versions of expensive drugs soon after a Labour government came to power, but the establishment of a state-funded generic drug manufacturer would not come until the end of the party's first five-year term in office.

Kate Andrews, associate director of the free-market thinktank the Institute for Economic Affairs, said: "Jeremy Corbyn’s call for compulsory licensing for medication puts at risk a patent system that encourages innovation and revolutions in medicine, which patients in the UK and across the world benefit from daily.

"Removing all profit motive from healthcare is likely to worsen the problems that already exist in the NHS: rationing, limited patient choice, and the lack of innovation in the market for drugs and new treatment."

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