UK Health Minister slams Pharma Industry

  • UK Health Minister slams Pharma Industry (c) Africa Studio/ShutterstockUK Health Minister slams Pharma Industry (c) Africa Studio/Shutterstock

British Health Minister Matt Hancock, in an interview with the London-based Times newspaper, has slammed the international pharmaceutical industry for trying to "rip off” UK taxpayers.

Using language the newspaper described as “unusually tough” for a health minister, it said Hancock accused drugmakers of "profiteering" on drugs developed with the help of government-funded research or National Health Service (NHS) patient data. The minister told the Times he would not allow Vertex to “hold the NHS to ransom."

Triggering for Hancock’s comments was an ongoing dispute between Boston, Massachusetts-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals and the NHS over pricing of a cystic fibrosis drug, along with divergent views between the heathcare system and drugmakers generally. 

In the minister’s view, the British healthcare system’s latest pricing offer for Vertex’s CF drugs was “incredibly generous,” and “Vertex needs to “accept the deal and supply the drug right now.”

Vertex and the UK government had sparred over pricing earlier, with the Boston drugmaker’s CEO Jeffrey Leiden complaining to Prime Minister Theresa May that rejection of the company’s recommended price by the industry watchdog National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) “threatens the entire UK biopharma ecosystem.”

Leiden suggested that NICE needs to revamp its assessment processes to keep up with “new science.” The agency, he charged, has shown "no flexibility" in negotiations and is adhering to "arbitrary value thresholds." This means that it is "placing a lower value on the life of a CF patient" in the UK, compared with other countries. The disease affects more than 10,000 people, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

The UK’s healthcare system rejects “a significant number of drugs” after an initial review, UK trade journal Fierce Pharma notes. After further negotiations, however, it said drugmakers do enjoy a certain degree of success in winning recommendations for coverage.

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