AstraZeneca, the UK pharmaceuticals group, has won a significant legal victory related to one of its ovarian cancer drugs.
However, in the process of the legal proceedings, AstraZeneca promised to cut the price of the drugs and fund some treatment costs going forward.
The concessions made by AstraZeneca are indicative of the financial pressures that drug manufacturers in the UK are facing.
This agreement can be placed in the context of the mounting fiscal pressure on the health system as a whole.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) indicated that it was prepared to recommend olaparib — also known by its trade name Lynparza — for use by NHS England.
This was a reversal of a decision made in June to reject the drug for distribution in the United Kingdom.
However, with the authorities cautious about the consequences of the verdict, the recommendation was made with restrictions put in place as well.
These will provide guidelines with regard to which patients shall be eligible to take the ovarian cancer drug.
The verdict coincided with a separate decision to reject a push by Johnson & Johnson, the US drugmaker, to win wider access for NHS patients to a heavily promoted prostate cancer drug called abiraterone.
Both of the drugs were developed in the United Kingdom, and AstraZeneca has suggested that the legal battle the company has face is indicative of the barriers preventing homegrown innovation in the pharmaceutical field.
However, critics of the pharmaceutical industry suggest that big pharma manufacturers only have themselves to blame for the high prices that have lead to legal restrictions.
In final draft guidance, NICE recommended use of olaparib only after three or more courses of chemotherapy.
There was also an additional condition that AstraZeneca would be responsible for footing the bill for patients who remained on the drug for a period in excess of 15 months.
Lisa Anson, head of AstrAstraZenecaeneca in the UK, agreed with the ruling, but also suggested that patients in the NHS are losing out on vital treatment owing to overly restrictive conditions.
“Despite being a world leader in the discovery and development of groundbreaking medicines, the UK has the worst overall cancer outcomes in western Europe.”
It was he pointed out that Anson obviously has a vested interest in this issue.
Johnson & Johnson indicated that it was extremely disappointed by NICE’s decision not to recommend use of abiraterone.
There were 4,271 deaths from ovarian cancer in 2012 in the UK.