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Taxpayer-funded drugs 'too expensive for patients'

From BBC - October 21, 2017

Taxpayer-funded medical research is producing medicines which are increasingly unaffordable for patients who need them, says a new report.

Campaigners claim that the NHS spent more than 1bn on drugs developed from publically funded research in 2016.

But the UK pharmaceutical industry said the main driver of price was the value of drugs to patients.

A government spokesperson said: "We want the UK to continue to be a global leader in research and development."

They added that the government was committed to ensuring patients could access the effective medicines they needed, at a price that represented value for the NHS and for taxpayers.

A new report, seen by 5 live Investigates, claims that UK taxpayers and patients worldwide are being denied the medicines they need, despite the public sector playing a pivotal role in the discovery of new medicines.

'Unsustainable' high prices

The report, published by campaign groups Global Justice Now and Stop Aids, says that even when the government has part-funded the research and development, there is no guarantee that patients will be able to access the medicines at an affordable price.

It says: "In many cases, the UK taxpayer effectively pays twice for medicines: first through investing in R&D, and then by paying high prices for the resulting medicine once ownership has been transferred to a private company."

It claims the high prices of new medicines are "unsustainable for an already underfunded NHS".

Industry representatives counter that the situation is not that straightforward.

They say that turning scientific discoveries into medicines takes years of scientific trials and costs billions of pounds, and the process is risky, so not every drug they test will make it to market.

However, campaigners say drug companies are generating huge private profits from public funds.

'Serious questions'

Emma Robertson, 35, has incurable breast cancer and is taking the drug, palbociclib.

This drug was originally developed using work carried out by publicly funded Cancer Research UK scientists in the 1980s, for which they won the 2011 Nobel Prize.

In February, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) made a provisional decision not to recommend the drug because the cost was too high in relation to its potential benefits.

However Ms Robertson is receiving the drug through a free trial provided by the drug company Pfizer.

A full course of treatment with palbociclib costs 79,650, which campaigners say means the manufacturer is vastly overpricing the drug.

They claim it could be made and sold for a profit for 1 per pill, but say in fact it is currently sold for 140 times more.

"Pfizer needs to dramatically reduce the price that it wants to charge for this drug," Ms Robertson says.

'Complete myth'

Controversy

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