UK Labour Party proposes state run generics manufacturer Posted 25/10/2019

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In a speech at the 2019 Labour Party Conference, leader Jeremy Corbyn introduced the ‘Medicines For The Many’ initiative, which aims to put ‘public health before private profit’ and includes plans to establish a state-owned pharmaceutical company to manufacture generic medicines in the UK.

The initiative would make patented drugs subject to compulsory licensing, known in the UK as Crown use licences, which allow governments to issue a licence to another manufacturer to produce a generic version of a patented drug at a lower price.

Longer-term plans include establishing a state-owned pharmaceutical company to manufacture generic medicines for the National Health Service (NHS) and reinvest profits into publicly funded R & D facilities.

Discussing the need for change, the labour leader highlighted the case of ivacaftor/lumacaftor, a cystic fibrosis drug marketed by American firm Vertex as Orkambi. The drug has previously not been available on the NHS due to its high costs (over GBP 100,000 per patient each year).

Speaking at the conference, Mr Corbyn discussed cystic fibrosis patient Luis Walker, a nine-year-old boy who has been the face of various campaigns to make Orkambi publicly available. Mr Corbyn said that ‘Luis is denied the medicine he needs because its manufacturer refuses to sell the drug to the NHS for an affordable price’.

In response to the rising pressure, on 24 October 2019 Vertex agreed a deal to make Orkambi available to patients on the NHS. Two other cystic fibrosis drugs made by Vertex (Symkevi and Kalydeco) will also be made publicly available as part of the deal.

Mr Corbyn’s speech included various other announcements, including ambitious plans to abolish all prescription charges for all people living in England.

In response to the speech, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) – the association representing UK companies producing prescription medicines – commented that many of the proposed policy measures were ‘unworkable’ or would have a negative effect on industry.

Richard Torbett, Executive Director of Commercial Policy at the ABPI, said ‘The UK already has effective systems in place to make sure medicines are priced affordably and reflect the value they bring to people’s lives. It is extremely rare that the NHS and a company fail to agree a price’. 

He said an agreement between the pharmaceutical industry and Government gives the NHS ‘certainty’ on what it will spend on drugs and denied the suggestion that companies ‘can charge what they want’ for medicines. 

Of Mr Corbyn’s suggestion for compulsory licensing, Mr Torbett said it would ‘completely undermine’ the system for developing new medicines.

The UK BioIndustry Association was similarly critical of the plans, suggesting that they could be particularly harmful to smaller companies. ‘Labour’s proposal to use compulsory licences risks cutting off investment in the small companies up and down the UK that are working hard to develop new treatments for patients that have few options’, said Chief Executive Steve Bates.

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Source: ABPI,Labour.org.uk

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