There’s a real possibility that drug companies will stop launching new medicines in the UK, Novartis UK Chief Executive Subhanu Saxena has said in an interview with national newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

A number of factors are behind this statement; principally that it is becoming more expensive to conduct clinical trials in the country and that regulatory delays imposed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the clinical- and cost-effectiveness body the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence are making the UK an uncompetitive place in which to do business.

For Novartis, Saxena indicates, the length of time it takes to get a medicine onto the UK market has had a direct impact on two of its recent products – Xolair (omalizumab) for asthma and Lucentis (ranibizumab) for age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness.

The comments come in the wake of the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into NICE, which stressed – among a number of other recommendations - that the Institute needs to start assessing all drugs at launch so that doctors are able to prescribe new medicines as soon as they become available. It has been taking up to two years in some cases to produce a final appraisal for a product.

Although it was launched in the UK in 2005, NICE did not issue its final appraisal for Xolair until November last year, despite being assessed under NICE’s rapid single technology appraisal fast-track programme, which takes around six months to complete compared to some 12-14 months for the standard Multiple Technology Appraisal.

Meanwhile, NICE issued preliminary guidance on Lucentis earlier last year, but sparked uproar over the treatment restrictions it imposed. It bowed to the immense pressure it faced, and in December announced a ground-breaking dose-capping scheme for Lucentis, whereby the NHS pays for a maximum of 14 injections, which should be effective in most cases, and Novartis reimburses the cost if the patient needs any more.