UK taxpayers and patients worldwide are being denied the medicines they need, despite public funding playing a pivotal role in the discovery of new medicines, according to a report by two campaigning groups.
‘Pills and profits: how drug companies make a killing out of public research’, published by STOPAIDS and Global Justice Now, claims that in many cases, the UK taxpayer pays twice for medicines, first through investing in research and development (R&D) and then by paying high prices for the resulting medicine once ownership has been transferred to a private company.
And, according to Tabitha Ha from STOPAIDS, one of the co-authors of the report, it is not just British patients who are experiencing delays or being denied the medicines they need.
“Patients in the world’s poorest countries are also being ripped off, even when generic versions are available at a tiny fraction of the price,” she said.
“We need greater transparency and a radical rethink on how we fund the development of new medicines.”
The report said the UK government had not been active in pushing for progress on global access to medicines and was particularly resistant to ensuring transparency of R&D costs. Furthermore, it called on the government to attach public interest conditions to R&D funding.
However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) described the report as “ill informed” and “biased” and said that it did not take into account the leading role that the private sector plays in the development of thousands of life-saving and life-enhancing medicines.
“Collaboration between the private and public sector is vital and has certainly led to the development of new medicines and treatments, but it is incorrect to assert that the taxpayer funds most drug development,” said Richard Torbet, director of UK and international commercial policy at the ABPI.
“Pharmaceutical companies take on the vast majority of financial risk in drug development with most of the costs and failures occurring in clinical trials…it is highly unlikely that governments would be willing or able to take on that financial risk.
“Once a medicine is successfully launched, the UK has one of the strictest assessments in the world for ensuring the price is cost-effective for the NHS — this ensures that companies price medicines responsibly.”