Labour's promise to “take on pharmaceutical companies” which “deny life-saving and life-changing medicines to ill patients by charging extortionate prices” has not gone down well with industry representatives.
Speaking at the party's annual conference in Brighton this week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn unveiled a “radical” programme of reform, ‘Medicines for the Many’, which he said would make life-changing drugs available at affordable prices and “create a health innovation system that will put public health before private profit”.
Under the plans, Labour intends to secure generic versions of patented medicines at a price affordable for the NHS, make public funding for research conditional on the result drugs being priced affordably for all, and create a new, publicly-owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS, it said.
Addressing delegates, Corbyn said tens of thousands of patients suffering from illnesses such as cystic fibrosis hepatitis C and breast cancer “are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for shareholders before people’s lives.
“Labour will tackle this. We will redesign the system to serve public health - not private wealth - using compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines.
“We’ll tell the drugs companies that if they want public research funding then they’ll have to make their drugs affordable for all. And we will create a new publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS saving our health service money and saving lives.”
In response to the plans, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said “compulsory licensing – the seizure of new research – is not the answer.
“It would completely undermine the system for developing new medicines. It would send a hugely negative signal to British scientists and would discourage research in a country that wants to be a leader in innovation.”
Steve Bates OBE, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), said NHS patients and the UK economy “would both lose the chance of new life saving treatments if the UK becomes a hostile environment for intellectual property.
“Sadly, there are still many life-threatening conditions for which there are no viable treatments available. The development of medicines in the UK and globally is underpinned by a strong and robust intellectual property system that incentivises investment.
“New life-saving medicines are not just being developed by a few large pharmaceutical companies but also hundreds of innovative SMEs across the UK. 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.”