Pharmaceutical Industry Receives Boost from UK Government Plans to Improve Medicine Access

Earlier access to new medicines and automatic inclusion of NICE-recommended treatments onto local formularies are some of the many measures included in a package announced yesterday by the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, as part of the UK’s Life Sciences Strategy and the NHS Chief Executive, Sir David Nicholson’s, Review of Innovation.

The strategy provides for a £360 million investment to support the discovery, development and commercialisation of research, including:

– an £180 million Biomedical Catalyst Fund to nurture innovative technologies through the “valley of death” funding gap which exists between development in the laboratory and when they can attract investment from the market;

– £130 million for research into stratified medicines and mechanisms of disease, which will provide for collaborations between academia, industry and clinicians;

– £50 million (£10 million annually over the next five years) for a cell therapy innovation centre to be based in London.

Some of the key measures which were announced by the government to improve treatment for patients include:

– a consultation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) early in 2012 on proposals for a new “early access scheme” which will aim to put new drugs and technologies into hospitals quicker, including those at an earlier stage than Phase III development when supported by suitable data, particularly in areas where new treatments are urgently required;

– the automatic adoption of all NICE technology appraisal recommendations into appropriate local formularies “in a planned way that supports safe and clinically appropriate practice,” in order to prevent local duplication and delays in take-up;

– the introduction of a new NICE Implementation Collaborative to support prompt implementation of the Institute’s guidance and reduce variation across the NHS.

Commenting on the proposals, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) specifically welcomed the latter initiatives, which “will contribute towards patients receiving better treatments, more quickly, and build the UK’s attractiveness as a leading hub for medical and health research,” noted ABPI’s chief executive, Stephen Whitehead.

If adopted, the recommendations “will mean much of the red tape and bureaucracy within the NHS, which prevents patients receiving the very best of treatments, will be removed. Not only will patient health improve as a result, but removing the barriers to innovation will aid the long-term terms of the life sciences sector and the UK economy,” he added.

Another of the government’s proposals is for the NHS Commissioning Board to accelerate NHS-wide adoption of high-impact technologies which have demonstrated clinical effectiveness, such as telehealth.  This will be done in partnership with industry, using a new approach that will aim to deliver this technology across the country to improve three million lives over the next five years, it says, adding: “delivery on this industrial scale has not been attempted anywhere else and would put the NHS at the forefront of the management of chronic disease globally.”

Although the proposals have been broadly welcome by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors, the later proposal, whereby the UK government’s plans to share more detailed patient prescribing data with private companies, has raised concerns that patient confidentiality is being threatened.

However, Liz Fitzsimons, senior associate at international law firm Eversheds, commented that “the government’s plan to publish more prescription data is in line with its transparency agenda”.  The plans will also allow patients to opt-out of having their data used in clinical research if they wish to.

Announcing the proposals, Mr Cameron pointed out that the industry is changing – “not just year by year but month by month”, and to keep up with what is happening “we’ve got to change radically, the way we innovate, the way we collaborate, the way we open up the NHS.”

NHS chief executive, Sir David Nicholson, added that the review “represents a call to action for everyone in the NHS to make innovation a central priority.”

The Stockholm Network, a think tank specializing in innovation and health care research, welcomes the new reforms announced by the Prime Minister but argues that they do not go far enough. While the Cameron blueprint currently focuses on speeding up innovation and the development of new technologies, it also needs to consider how best to increase the uptake of these innovations once they have reached the market, it says.

The UK life science industry is the third largest contributor to economic growth in the UK with more than 4,000 companies and a total annual turnover of over £50 billion.  Its success is vital to future economic growth and the government goal is to rebalance the economy towards making new products and selling them to the world.


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