Having announced plans to set up a scientific advisory service to guide drugmakers in making their regulatory submissions, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is now looking to help other countries in setting out their own guidelines.

Speaking at the institute’s annual conference in Manchester last week, NICE chair Sir Michael Rawlins told PharmaTimes that a number of countries, notably Jordan, Colombia, Russia, Siberia, South Korea and Ghana, have shown interest in NICE’s consultancy services. However the agency is also exploring ways to help less-developed countries.

However to help the poorer countries, NICE is looking to work with groups like the World Health Organisation rather than through consultancy per se. This is a necessary route, Sir Michael said, because NICE is financed to give advice to the National Health Service “so what we do elsewhere has to be either self-funding (ie the advisory service for pharmaceutical firms) or we have to have special resources from the Department of International Development to do work with the WHO in very poor countries”.

Discussions with the DIP are going on and “they are several sorts of things we can do”, he told PharmaTimes. It has been suggested that NICE could do a guideline for dengue fever, for example, but Sir Michael sees the role as giving these countries “the skills to adapt our guidelines”.

NICE’s guidelines on childbirth are not immediately relevant to Somalia, Sudan or Chad, “but there are elements of it that are just the same”, he said. It would very useful for these countries to extract the elements that are relevant to themselves.

Interest in the way NICE operates is also growing in the USA, “where the notion that charging what the market will bear” is still the approach (Medicare is not allowed by law to negotiate drug prices), Sir Michael added. “That is not sustainable in the future, we haven’t got enough money, not even America,” he noted.

President-elect Obama has said that he will let Medicare to start negotiating on price, but if this is the case “you have to have the option to say no”, Sir Michael said. If this happens, this will affect the high prices in Europe which are based in part to the prices charged in the USA.

Drugmakers will have to remodel themselves “and the wise ones know that”, he told PharmaTimes. He cited the efforts of Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline and “a man for whom I have an enormous amount of regard and respect” who is refocusing his business in a different way from the traditional model and good luck to him, I hope he succeeds”.

Sir Michael concluded by saying “we need a strong pharmaceutical industry to produce new drugs but it has to be at an affordable cost”.