A cross-party group of MPs is seeking a parliamentary investigation into the £500 million spent on Roche’s influenza drug Tamiflu.
The call is being led by the former shadow home secretary David Davis and the Tory GP Sarah Wollaston, who have asked Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee, to find out whether evidence about the drug was concealed.
Hodge has become quite powerful in recent months as her committee has led several high profile investigations into the tax affairs of major corporations, including GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Amazon and Starbucks.
In the letter to Hodge, written by Wollaston and signed by the Labour MP Valerie Vaz, the cross-party group wrote: “We are writing to you in your capacity as chair of the public accounts committee to ask if your committee would consider conducting an inquiry into the waste of NHS resources caused by the concealment of trial data for drugs, medical appliances and implants.”
The Labour government spent around £500 million on the drug in 2009-10 during the swine flu outbreak. The MPs, however, say that Roche has restricted access to around 60% of all the data surrounding its drugs, and argue in the letter that it is most likely “no better than a placebo”.
The signatories go on: “In the event that your committee finds Roche has deliberately concealed evidence which shows Tamiflu to be simply a placebo with side effects, you might wish to consider a recommendation that the government seeks repayment of the £500 million cost.”
Both the Nordic Cochrane Collaboration and the British Medical Journal have been seeking to obtain these data for more than three years in order to test its efficacy. So far Roche has refused to give up the information, but last month said it would be looking at establishing a multi-disciplinary review board to assess the raw data sets.
This may not however be enough to appease the MPs or Margaret Hodge, should she decide to review the money spend on the drug. It is understood Ms Hodge is considering the letter from the MPs very seriously, according to the Financial Times.
Public finances are also becoming a more deepening political issue after the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne last week announced that austerity measures in the UK would likely last another five years. Public tolerance for a large spend on a drug that may not work would be a difficult sell for Roche, should this be the case.