Professional groups, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), have urged the government to oppose the takeover of an asthma inhaler manufacturer by a tobacco firm.
In a letter to Lord Bethel, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for innovation, the RPS expressed its ethical concerns about the proposed takeover of Vectura — a UK company that makes products used in the treatment of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory diseases — by the tobacco company Philip Morris International.
In a statement published on 13 August 2021, the RPS said that tobacco companies should not profit from the illnesses their products cause.
“If this takeover were allowed to proceed, it would send all the wrong signals for the kind of health and research community the UK seeks to promote,” it added.
Claire Anderson, president of the RPS, said: “We are deeply concerned about the proposed takeover of Vectura by Philip Morris International.
“This takeover not only raises ethical concerns that a company whose tobacco products harm the public may later profit from providing a treatment, but also creates an ethical dilemma for healthcare professionals.
“We strongly urge the government to oppose this takeover to protect the public and healthcare professionals.”
The Society’s action against the takeover follows statements issued by other organisations, including the British Thoracic Society (BTS).
On 5 August 2021, the BTS highlighted the “inappropriateness of this deal” and called for the takeover to be prevented, “given the unresolvable ethical conflict that would be generated by such an arrangement”.
It said that it aligned with lung and cancer charities and medical societies in the UK, as well as with its counterpart in the United States, the American Thoracic Society.
Toby Capstick, consultant pharmacist, respiratory medicine, at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said that if the Philip Morris takeover of Vectura was allowed to proceed, healthcare professionals would have “serious ethical dilemmas” about whether or not they could continue to prescribe inhaled therapies that are associated with Vectura, and many concerned healthcare professionals may remove these products from local formularies.
“This may be limited to just those products where there are revenue income or royal/licensing rights paid to Vectura, or some may even remove manufacturer’s entire portfolio of inhaled medicines,” he said.
“There are a large number of alternative and equally effective inhalers available to treat asthma and COPD, so there are a large number of potential suitable inhalers for patients.”
Capstick said that “personally” he would find it difficult to continue to start patients on products where costs were paid downstream to the tobacco industry.
“But switching existing patients — particularly if stable on treatment — would be harder,” he added.
“When choosing an appropriate inhaler to prescribe for patients, the principals of shared decision making, and teaching and checking inhaler technique, are key to optimising disease control, and this applies equally to patients newly starting an inhaled therapy and those who may have their treatment changed for any reason.
“It is important that patient agreement is obtained for any inhaler device that is prescribed. If any patient’s inhaler device is changed as a consequence of any takeover, then this should be explained to the patient and their approval obtained.”
Vectura and Philip Morris International were approached for comment.