The UK pharma industry

Fear grows over government’s ‘breakthrough drugs’ fixation

In the lead up to further talks on medicine pricing, Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has accused the UK government of being too focused on encouraging breakthrough drugs at the expense of significant gains for patients from incremental innovation in medicines. ‘The government wants to target resources at big breakthroughs, but the science shows us that developments in medicine are made in small steps.

"We have to make sure that we recognise and reward the investment that goes into creating innovative new medicines. Manufacturers take a £1bn gamble when they decide to create a medicine in the UK, and they won’t take that plunge if there is no reward for success. The UK is a global leader in medical research and development, but we have to do all we can to prolong and build on this success; we have to ensure that the huge risks discoverers and developers take are rewarded.’

The Many Faces of Innovation

In a study commissioned by ABPI various types of medical innovation are highlighted, placing them within the current context of increasing pressure on the pharmaceutical industry to justify itself as innovative. The "Many Faces of Innovation" report points out that innovation is an ‘uncertain activity’ and outcomes can be only poorly predicted, if at all. Experience effects are important, and successive improvements derive significant economic benefit through experience processes. Thus, innovation is a cumulative activity in which small steps build on past developments. In addition, because innovation has many dimensions, the study warns that it is misleading to attempt to categorise the degree of a medicine’s innovativeness as a ‘breakthrough’ or not one.

‘One of the main problems that arise from using a binary classification is the pejorative sense that is then attached to the term “incremental”. Innovation in pharmaceuticals should not be classified using this dichotomy, given its complexity and multidimensionality and the importance of cumulative steps to overall innovation,” the report points out, adding: ‘A broad perspective needs to be taken when evaluating innovation in medicines; otherwise, we run the risk of ignoring some, or all, of the advantages of follow-on products.’

Emphasising that the pricing negotiations will decide the future of pharmaceutical research in Britain, Stephen Whitehead stressed: ‘If we minimise the reward for innovation in the UK, then our manufacturers will go abroad. Our industry, our economy, and our healthcare system will suffer and UK patients will suffer.



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