The pharmaceutical industry is now entering a new era in which it can, for the first time, prove that its products work, but realising the full benefits of this will require a "seamless relationship" between the industry and the NHS, says Stephen Whitehead, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)'s new chief executive.
"The nature of healthcare provision has changed and the reliance on pharma is bigger than ever. The effective use of medicines is the only answer, and to make this work, our joint working partnership must be seamless - we need to make sure we are all going in the same direction," Mr Whitehead said this week, giving his first public speech since taking over at the ABPI.
"The NHS, the Department of Health and the industry all recognise the need for partnership, and this openness to joint working puts us in a strong starting position," he said. Moreover, the ABPI "needs to become more than the industry's trade body - we must be the voice of our industry. We need to be prepared to say what others cannot," he stated.
Mr Whitehead was speaking at a reception held to launch a new ABPI report detailing how the collection and use of real-world data can enable the true value of treatments to be demonstrated. In order to get the best possible value from medicines, he said, not only will genuine collaboration between the industry and the NHS be necessary, but the uptake of innovative new medicines in Britain has to be increased.
"The UK lags behind in terms of patient access and uptake, and this needs to change. If we are to benefit from better health outcomes, then UK patients need to be given faster access to treatments," he told the reception. As an example, he pointed out that use in the UK of new cancer medicines is currently 33% lower than the European average.
The collection and use of real-world data will not only potentially lead to a better understanding of conditions and treatments in a wider population, and provide the opportunity to improve patient quality of life while reducing NHS costs, it will also create wider economic advantages by encouraging investment by the pharmaceutical industry in the UK, he said. Again, this will require "seamless collaboration" between the NHS and industry, with a greater transfer of skills and the sharing of knowledge and expertise, and this "can only work to the benefit of the NHS, the industry - and most, important, patients," he said.
However, Mr Whitehead also acknowledged that the perception of the industry is an issue that has to be addressed. "We need to show that the industry is part of the solution, not the problem," he said, adding: "if we change the perception of our industry, we will enable our members to build partnerships with the NHS for the benefit of patients and the economy."
And the industry also needs support, he went on. "We must work with the government to ensure that value-based pricing (VBP), or any other new scheme, does not become the fifth hurdle. We need the freedom to modulate - and, crucially, we need the freedom to innovate," said Mr Whitehead, and he emphasised that innovation is not only the key to improving medicine and healthcare standards, but also to balancing the economics of UK healthcare and to the very future of the pharmaceutical industry.