UK taxpayers and patients, and patients in poor countries, are being denied the medicines they need due to high cost, even though the public sector (taxpayers and charities) pay for 2/3 of research and development (R+D) costs worldwide. The UK government is the second biggest funder of R+D in the world; it spent £2.3bn on health research and development in 2015.
Private companies take over the R+D results to produce their drugs. They then patent them (patents last 20 years, but there are ways to extend them) and sell them to the NHS and to poor countries at huge profit. In 2016 the NHS spent over £1bn on medicines developed with significant reliance on UK public research funding.
The drug companies claim they need the profits to incentivise further R+D, but they routinely spend more on sales and marketing than R+D.
There is too much influence on Government by pharma companies.
2 out of the 5 most expensive NHS drugs were discovered using “substantial” public money.
- Abiraterone for prostate cancer was discovered and developed by the mainly publicly funded Institute of Cancer Research, then bought by a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson. The NHS pays £98 per person per day, though a generic alternative would cost only £11.
- Infliximab for arthritis, developed by universities in US and UK, costs the NHS £178m in 2015/16.
- Alemtuzmab (for MS) was developed by Cambridge University as a treatment for a type of leukaemia and bought by Sanofi Genzyme. It cost £2,500 for a course of leukaemia treatment in 2012. Cambridge scientists then discovered it could be used to treat MS. The company withdrew it from the market and re-launched it as an MS drug. They now charge £56,000 per course of treatment, a 22-fold increase (length of course?).
The cash-strapped NHS is being ripped off by some of the world’s most profitable companies. Politicians should take note and act. Poor countries too are being ripped off, when generic versions are available at a tiny fraction of the cost.
This is a summary of the recent Global Justice Now report Pills and Profits. The full report can be read here.