Pharmaceutical industry sounds alarm over UK Labour pledge to break patents, set up state-owned drugmaker to supply NHS

Groups representing the UK pharmaceutical industry have come out against plans put forth by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK's main opposition Labour Party, that call for compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines and the creation of a state-owned company to make generics of drugs that are deemed prohibitively expensive for the NHS. "The government needs to play a more active role to ensure that rewards and incentives for innovation are tailored to areas of greatest public health need, rather than toward maximising monopoly-driven profits," the party stated in a policy document, which cited precedents in Cuba and China.

Corbyn pointed to the high cost of Vertex Pharmaceuticals' cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi (lumacaftor/ivacaftor), which the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence declined to back for NHS coverage in 2016 due to its annual per-patient cost of £104,000 ($128,490). Earlier this year, Vertex agreed to re-enter negotiations with NICE and NHS England in a bid to break a deadlock regarding funding for the treatment. 

Commenting on the latest news, Vertex said "it is our belief that invoking Crown use and providing third parties with access to a company's intellectual property, would not represent a quick solution for patients and is not a mechanism for the provision of medicines at a lower price." 

Richard Torbett, executive director of commercial policy at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), noted that while the situation surrounding Orkambi is "clearly unacceptable," he stressed that "compulsory licensing – the seizure of new research – is not the answer." Torbett suggested that such a move would "completely undermine the system for developing new medicines…[and] discourage research in a country that wants to be a leader in innovation." 

Meanwhile, BioIndustry Association (BIA) chief executive Steve Bates remarked that "the development of medicines in the UK and globally is underpinned by a strong and robust intellectual property system that incentivises investment." He warned that "Labour's proposal to use compulsory licenses risks cutting off investment in the small companies up and down the UK that are working hard to develop new treatments for patients that have few options." 

Under the Labour proposal, compulsory licencing would be enacted soon after the party came into power, while the state-run pharmaceutical company would not be created until the end of the party's first five-year term in office.

To read more Top Story articles, click here.