A new study in the Lancet suggests that Britain is getting a good deal with regard to cancer drugs.
Research conducted by the authoritative journal indicates that the UK is paying significantly less for cancer drugs than many other wealthy nations.
While the UK, Greece, Spain and Portugal pay the least, on average, for the drugs that they utilise, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland pay the most.
The authors of the report stated that the process of purchasing cancer drugs en masse should be more transparent, owing to the fact that numerous nations apparently risk overpaying for critical drugs.
Considering the importance of the cancer treatments, this is clearly an urgent issue.
Nonetheless, it is at least good news for the British health industry that the UK is currently getting a good deal on medicines.
According to the report, drugs had accounted for nearly a third of the EU’s 51 billion euro (£37bn) cancer healthcare spending in 2009.
In order to get an accurate representation of the Western market, researchers assessed the pricing of 31 cancer drugs across 18 high-income countries in the Western world.
These included in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden and Portugal.
While cancer remains one of the biggest killers in the United Kingdom, the incidence of the disease also indicates its importance.
338,623 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer in 2012.
Cancers of the breast, lung, prostate and bowel account for over half (53%) of all new cancer cases in the UK in 2012.
The Lancet found that prices of drugs in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden were frequently the highest – and for some drugs, such as interferon alfa 2b to treat leukaemia and skin cancer, the prices were twice as high.
It appears that at least patients and consumers in the UK are getting a reasonable deal on this key aspect of medicine.
Sabine Vogler, report author and researcher at the Austrian Public Health Institute, indicated that the system of discounts which operates at present led to the risk of some countries ovepaying for medicine.
“The discounts should be open to everyone, but industry doesn’t want to do it. However, it would allow some countries to see that they are overpaying.”
David Watson, director of pricing and reimbursement at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, largely supported this view, but also indicated that the situation for the UK was favourable present.
Watson suggested that cancer medicines are currently “affordable in the UK”, and that the UK was “getting a fair deal with regards to medicines pricing,” while the NHS was “getting good value for money”.
The Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding has withdrawn from its role in creating an antibiotic to treat so-called superbug infections.
Roche Holding confirmed on Sunday that it would no longer be part of this process.
It was back in 2013 that the company had paid in the region of $500 million for the rights to this particular product to the privately held partner Polyphor.
At the time this represented the first major foray into the battle against superbugs from a major pharmaceutical corporation.
The problem of bugs developing in hospitals which are resistant to traditional antibiotics has been a major issue for institutions all over the country.
It was hoped that this Roche deal, worth 465 million francs, would make a serious impact on the problem.
Yet it now seems that the major pharmaceutical manufacturer has permanently withdrawn himself from the process of developing this product.
“Roche has decided to discontinue its involvement in the clinical development of the investigational antibiotic RG7929 / POL7080 for the treatment of patients with severe Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections and will return the asset to Polyphor,” a company spokesman commented.
Musing on the reasons that Roche had drawn out of the manufacturing of a superbug solution, the spokesman continued that there were development problems for the corporation during the developmental process.
In particular, the internal assessment of the corporation was that “a streamlined development path as originally planned is no longer an option for Roche”.
According to the World Health Organization, superbug infections represent one of the largest health challenges of the 21st century.
Some of the best known superbug infections include multi-drug-resistant typhoid, tuberculosis and gonorrhea.
It is already known that such viruses killed hundreds of thousands of people every year, and the continuing rise of antibiotic resistance suggest that this process will expand further in the future, in the absnce of a new solution to the issue.
Commenting further on the overarching issue of superbug resistance, the spokesman from Roche acknowledged that antimicrobial resistance remained a major threat to public health.
He also indicated that the company would continue to focus on this issue going forward as part of its infectious disease research and development strategy.
So there is at least hope that Roche can make a contribution to the fight against superbugs in the foreseeable future.
It has also emerged that the experimental product that the Swiss corporation was working on previously, currently in the second phase of the clinical trials, will instead be developed solely by Polyphor.
Funding pressure is ensuring that efforts to develop and spread the use of innovative drugs and technologies in the NHS could be threatened.
A government commissioned review, headed by Sir Hugh Taylor, provided a stark warning to ministers regarding the dangers of compromising funding for research.
Taylor’s foreword suggests that the UK had “the potential to build upon our thriving life sciences industry, through which our economy as well as our patients will benefit”.
But he also provide a call to arms for the industry. “We will lose ground if research budgets are threatened, if our leading academic hospitals cannot afford to support research or use the latest drugs and technologies to pioneer developments in the treatment of the most complex conditions.”
The warning from Taylor comes in the context of NHS England carrying out vital negotiations with the Treasury over the spending plans of the health service between now and the end of the decade.
After a tense exchange between the Labour party and Conservatives in parliament today, the government is ultimately due to set out its spending plans by 25th November.
Prime Minister David Cameron was put under pressure today regarding his plans for tax credits expenditure, and it is clear that there will be budgetary pressure on the government by the time of the spending review in November.
The warning from Taylor also follows on from a high profile row over funding between England’s top teaching and specialist trusts, and national agencies.
In particular, the interim report made five central recommendations.
Firstly, the patient is to be placed in centre stage in future, and given a more prominent voice at every stage of the innovation pathway.
Secondly, a radically new approach will be utilised in order to ensure that the best possible products enter the health system.
Thirdly, more support will be provided to innovators. The most intuitive seekers of innovation should be represented throughout the NHS.
Fourthly, the NHS should be an active partner in promoting innovation.
And, finally, a new system architecture is required in order to accelerate access to the best new products and related models of care. They should, of course, be delivered sustainably, with a suitable framework of collective agreements.
The review was commissioned by Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman. This role is shared between the Department of Health and Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.
As the NHS comes under increasing budgetary pressure, such innovations play a major role in achieving a more efficient and effective health service in the future.
A new drug that has a significant influence on the likelihood of being infected with HIV is being strongly promoted by experts.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is being heralded as a massive breakthrough in treating HIV and AIDS, after researchers in a UK-based study found that it decreased infections by 86 per cent among gay men at high risk.
Scientists involved in the study opined that the NHS simply “cannot afford to ignore” this HIV treatment.
Having carried out a trial at 13 sexual health clinics last year, researchers involved in the test have now published results in The Lancet.
The initial tests were accelerated as it became clear that the drug was extremely effective.
Results indicate that one case of HIV could be prevented for every 13 men taking PrEP, which is considered to be an outstanding result.
The pill in question is referred to as Truvada, and it is already widely available in the United States. The NHS is now examining whether offering this drug free to high risk groups is feasible.
Although the early results regarding this pill are extremely positive, that decision on its availability is not expected until early in 2016.
However, it seems that prescriptions of PrEP may offer not only medical benefits but financial savings to the NHS as well.
The potential decline in HIV infections caused by the drug suggest that PrEP could save the NHS a considerable amount of money in the medium to long-term.
Researchers for the Lancet-published review were led by Professor Sheena McCormack of the Medical Research Council clinical trials unit at University College London (UCL).
The group concluded that “National health services are under financial constraints, but they cannot afford to ignore the results of PROUD and [separate PrEP trial] IPERGAY, which strongly support the addition of PrEP to the current standard of prevention for men who have sex with men at risk of HIV infection.”
This latest pill arrives in the context of the battle against HIV having read something of a logjam.
The number of new HIV infections in UK has remained static for 10 years, with around 3,250 new cases in 2013.
However, despite the current efficacy of this treatment, decisions about cost-effectiveness will have to encompass the significant cost of treating HIV infections.
This figure can rise as high as £11,000 per year, while clarification on the criteria for qualifying for a free PrEP prescription also needs to be agreed.
Dr Ian Williams, Chair of the HIV clinical reference group for NHS England, commented positively on the Lancet study “We want to see reductions in new transmissions of HIV infection and are already investing in programmes to achieve this. These findings add to existing international evidence on preventing infection, and consideration is already being given to how best to make further progress.”
As PrEP is a specialist HIV drug, a final decision on the pill will be made by NHS England, as opposed to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence.
The ABPI and the Department of Health have announced their intention to underwrite the growth in the medicines bill for the second quarter of 2015.
This initiative will be taken under the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) that was agreed last year.
The PPRS is a purely voluntary agreement between the two parties involved, although the existing understanding between the Department of Health and ABPI will run until the end of 2018, having come into effect on 1st January, 2014.
Under the terms of the payments, the ABPI and the Department of Health will make a payment of £209 million during the current financial quarter.
In 2015, the industry has already contributed £416m in PPRS payments to support the ongoing usage of branded medicine in the NHS.
During 2014, the pharmaceuticals industry paid a total of £310 million to the Department of Health under the PPRS, and it is anticipating payments totalling £800 million for 2015.
But as funding becomes an increasing challenge, figures released indicate that the growth in branded medicine is slowing down significantly.
In the second quarter of 2015, the growth rate of branded medicines utilised in the scheme was 2.41 per cent.
To put this figure into perspective, this was half the rate for the same period last year.
Speaking about the issue, David Watson, Director of Pricing and Reimbursement for the ABPI proclaimed the scheme to be a success story. “As an industry, we want to see patients getting access to the best high value medicines across all therapy areas. This Scheme provides the NHS with a unique opportunity to give patients in the UK greater access to new and innovative treatments at minimal cost,” Watson claimed.
However, Watson was also forced to concede that the growth rate in branded medicines was less than ideal.
“We are deeply concerned that the reduced growth rate shown in the second quarter suggests that patients in the UK are still losing out. Whilst industry is underwriting the medicines bill, patients are still not getting access to the right medicines at the right time,” Watson admitted.
The sub-par figures in this area can be underlined by comparing the United Kingdom to mainland Europe.
The UK, in fact, lags significantly behind the rest of Europe with regard to investment in medicines, if one uses the measurement of expenditure on pharmaceuticals per resident.
Figures released related to the PPRS agreement would seem to suggest that this situation is declining further still.
Watson acknowledged this, and made a plea for action to be taken to address the situation. “This is bad news for patients – we urge the NHS to ensure the PPRS payments allow clinicians to prescribe the medicines that they believe are right for their patients.”
In total, 134 companies, representing 93 per cent of the UK branded industry, have joined the voluntary PPRS.
Despite pro-cannabis protestors acquiring a sizeable petition to request changes to the existing law related to the substance, the UK government has recently signalled its unwillingness to bow to their arguments.
The 200,000-strong petition called for the commonly consumed and naturally occurring substance, that is currently officially classified as a drug, to be legalised.
But the government responded to the petition by stating that it has no plans to alter the existing law.
The petition in question was hosted on the government’s official e-petitions website, yet the apparently strong response to it has not provoked a favourable response from the government.
An official statement on the subject stated: “Substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalise cannabis as it would not address the harm to individuals and communities.”
The government also suggested that legalisation would “send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people.”
Nonetheless, having obtained more than the requisite 100,000 signatures, it is now incumbent upon MPs to consider debating the issue further in parliament.
Petitioners argued that legalising cannabis could raise in the region of £1 billion in savings on an annual basis, via taxation and the reduction in expenditure of policing drugs.
However, the government rejected this argument, claiming that any financial benefits derived from the legalisation of cannabis would be outweighed by the cost of administrative, compliance and law enforcement activities, as well as drug prevention and health services.
It must be said that this last claim seems extremely dubious, and one would like to see some figures from the government to even remotely support it.
Certainly Peter Reynolds, president of Clear UK, a cannabis policy group, considered the government’s arguments to be ill-founded, describing them as “dishonest, misleading and deceptive”. Reynolds added “despite the fact that [the petition received] more than twice the threshold required, MPs will fight tooth and nail to stop this being debated.”
However, Jason Reed, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) UK stated his belief that there had been a sea change in the public attitude with regard to reclassifying the legal status of cannabis.
Reed stated: “There will be a preliminary debate which hopefully we’ll get MPs along to. This still serves a purpose on educating the public about the merits of drug law reform. There has been a groundswell of support in grassroots action and the public are starting to get it.”
While the legal status of cannabis remains a contentious issue, the policy of legalisation has been successfully implemented in both mainland Europe and North America.
An in 2013, an Ipsos Mori poll indicated that 53 per cent of the public supported a softer stance on the substance.
However, a 20-year study conducted by World Health Organisation expert advisor on addiction Wayne Hall found that cannabis is addictive and can cause mental health problems.
Considering the sensitivity of data protection and related topics in the existing client, a new survey provides a damning indictment of the pharmaceutical sector.
According to the Crown Records Management / Censuswide Survey, 60 per cent of pharmaceutical companies have lost important data, and nearly one-in-four have been successfully breached by hackers.
The survey which quizzed IT decision-makers at UK companies which boast more than 200 employees will of serious concern, particularly owing to how imperative privacy is in the healthcare sector.
Companies in a wide variety of industrial sectors have been subjected to cyber-attacks, with the Carphone Warehouse and Ashley Madison recently hitting the headlines.
The importance of keeping data safe under lock and key was succinctly underlined by the 2013 data breach at US retailer Target; considered to be the largest successful cyber-theft in history.
As a result of the breach, which saw American computer hacker Albert Gonzalez sentenced to 20 years in federal prison, Target ultimately reached a deal with Visa to pay its card issuers up to $67 million.
The Crown Records Management Survey discovered that data in the industry is not being inappropriately accessed on an occasional basis, but instead this undesirable state of affairs appears to be a regular occurrence.
12 per cent of companies in the pharma sector that responded to the survey conceded that they have lost data between seven and nine times, while 8 per cent admitted that data had been jettisoned inadvertently on at least 13 occasions.
Speaking on this issue, Ann Sellar, Business Development Manager at Crown Records Management, indicated her view that these figures should be considered extremely serious.
Sellar warned: “These survey results should be a wake-up call for UK businesses, and especially those in the pharmaceutical sector, because the importance of protecting customer data is higher than ever. Not only because of potential fines for data breaches (which will soon increase when the EU General Data Protection Regulation is ratified) but also because of growing public awareness.
“It takes on average 20 years to build a reputation but just five minutes to ruin it with a data breach and then up to two years to rebuild it. So businesses need to look at the way they protect their information, understand where the threats are and start putting robust processes in place to protect their customers. If they don’t I can only see the number of data breaches increasing in the next few years.”
Although hacking is clearly a major source of difficultly for companies, Sellar also emphasised that the majority of data loss occurs due to human error, and reiterated the importance of companies treating this issue with due seriousness and gravity.
New government regulations affecting all NHS staff will affect the way that gifts or hospitality operate within the public health sector.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that all such gifts or hospitality received by NHS employees from drugs and medical device companies will have to be explicitly declared. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action.
The new government guidance has been dubbed the ‘Sunshine rule’, and is being introduced in order to prevent NHS staff from abusing their positions.
Previously there had been a risk that opulent gifts or luxurious hospitality could be offered to healthcare workers in exchange for preferential treatment within the NHS system for certain pharmaceuticals or procedures.
As a result of the new legislation, NHS organisations will be required to maintain a hospitality register in which staff will declare all gifts and hospitality that they receive from pharmaceutical firms and medical devices manufacturers.
With regard to the new legislation, Hunt indicated that he was acting on information that he had received previously, which brought into question the transparency and neutrality of processes in the NHS.
Hunt stated: “Disturbing evidence has come to my attention that small numbers of NHS staff have tried to influence NHS purchasing decisions in return for payment, gifts or hospitality from pharmaceutical firms and medical device manufacturers.
“This is a complete abuse of their position and will be shocking to the vast majority of staff who want the best for patients.”
In addition, Hunt also indicated that he believed the current regrettable situation was compounded by the number of sales representatives present in NHS establishment. Hunt stated that as many as 65 reps were on site at any one time according to a recent report.
In a robust defence of the policy, Hunt stated that “only those serving their own self-interest should have anything to fear, with patients and taxpayers set to benefit.”
Speaking on the subject, Dr Virginia Acha, the Executive Director of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), welcomed the legislation.
“We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of Health and NHS England as plans for the ‘Sunshine Rule’ develop, to ensure that we maximise our combined efforts on disclosure for the benefit of patients and the public.”
Acha also pointed out that the ABPI had been governed by its own self-regulated Code of Practice for over half a century.